Armando Galarraga is not an elite pitcher. In that regard, he’s like many other hurlers who have managed to toss a complete game. The list of perfect game pitchers includes some great names (see Halladay, Roy and Koufax, Sandy), but it also includes a hodge podge of journeymen. Have you ever heard of Len Barker? I’m not surprised.
Such is the beauty of baseball, where, for 27 outs, the planets can align and produce a great work of art from the hand of a mediocre painter.
Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers deserves to be among this auspicious list of less than two dozen professional baseball players. On what should have been the final out of his perfect performance, the Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald chopped a grounder between first and second. The Tigers’ first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, cut off the grounder while Galarraga hurried to cover first base and receive the flip from Cabrera.
Their timing was perfect, and Galarraga had the ball in his glove a half stride before Donald’s foot hit the bag. As distance is measured in baseball, a half stride could just as easily be called a half mile. But umpire Jim Joyce called him safe, and Galarraga’s perfect game shrunk to a “garden variety” one hitter.
Joyce isn’t an enemy in this equation. He’s a respectable umpire working an extremely difficult job, and he made an honest mistake, admitting it in no uncertain terms after the game. You have to feel for him almost as much as you feel for Galarraga.
Ironically, Galarraga’s footnote in the annals of baseball history might be even bigger now than it would have been had Joyce called Donald out at first. Galarraga would have notched the third perfect game of this year (Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay own the other two). But now he gets to be the only player in history to have been robbed of a perfect game on the would-be final play by an egregious error of officiating. However, I’m sure Galarraga would gladly trade this singular footnote for a less ignominious one.
There will surely be a chorus of pleas across sports talk radio in the coming days that baseball needs some form of instant replay. If they had it today, it’s certain Donald would have been called out.
But the rush to replay should be ignored. Just imagine if it had gone to instant replay, with the officiating crew caucused for five minutes, after which they would trot out, announce the out, and declare the game over. Not exactly an enthralling conclusion, is it? Now replace it with Jim Joyce punching his fist down a nanosecond after Galarraga catches the assist.
Baseball is a game of pace and patience. But those split second flashes-the outfielder who robs a home run with a leaping catch, the head first slide in to home, those are the moments that we baseball fans live for. And human officiating, imperfect as it may be, is what provides those moments.
Galarraga got robbed, that much is sure. But baseball fans across the country would have something stolen as well if this unfortunate incident led to any form of instant replay.