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MLB:  When Perfection Isn’t So Perfect      Share

03 June 2010

On 2 June, history was nearly shattered. Armando Galarraga, a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, came within one out of a “perfect game.”  In baseball, a perfect game is when a pitcher goes a minimum of 9 innings (the length of a normal baseball game) without allowing a single runner to get on base.  This includes not allowing a single walk or hitting a batter (gives the batter an automatic walk to first base).  In the game on the 2nd of June, in the 9th inning, with the last batter at the plate, Galarraga’s pitch was hit to the first baseman, who then fielded the ground ball and tossed it back to Galarraga who was moving to first base to catch the ball and get the runner out.  The first base umpire, Jim Joyce, called the runner safe.  Instant replay clearly showed that the runner was out.  If the runner was called out, Galarraga would have pitched a perfect game, but instant replay only exists in baseball in home run situations.  If Galarraga had pitched a perfect game, it would have been significant.  First, it would have been the third perfect game pitched this season.  There have only been 20 perfect games in the history of baseball.  In fact, there were only three perfect games pitched in the 80’s.  Immediately after the call, Galarraga smiled, walked back to the mound, and finished off the final runner.  In a locker room interview, Galarraga was asked about his thoughts on the call, and although he knew it was the wrong one, he pushed off criticism of the umpire by saying that everybody makes mistakes.  When Joyce reviewed the replay after the game, he immediately walked to the Tigers’ locker room and apologized to the pitcher.  Later, Joyce got on the local radio and continued to apologize and took complete blame for the result.  It was evident he felt terrible.  Although the call has been referred to as the “call heard ‘round the world,” it was this example of sportsmanship that has become the real story.  During these days of highly paid selfish athletes, this example of sportsmanship from both the pitcher and the umpire is rare and great to see.  Of final note, baseball’s commissioner, Bud Selig, has the power to overturn the call.  He decided not to do so, avoiding setting a precedent in going back in history to change the outcome of a game based on a single call.
 
Send comments to:Chris@notasportsguy.com

The Basics

Perfect games have only occurred 20 times in the history of baseball.  By contrast, no hitters have been pitched 266 times.  If you look at the pitchers that have thrown perfect games, some pretty big names are there, such as Cy Young and Sandy Koufax (both legendary pitchers).  Also on the list are virtual unknowns as the defense on the field can be just as critical as the quality of the pitching.  Without the defensive players fielding ground balls, catching fly balls, and avoiding errors, a perfect game is nearly impossible.  No pitcher has struck out every single batter without help from the field.  Rogers Clemens holds the record for strikeouts in a 9 inning game with 20.  Its considered so impossible, it doesn’t even have a name.  Sandy Koufax struck out the most batters of all 20 perfect games pitched, with 14 batters struck out.

Terminology:

Perfect Game – when a pitcher goes a minimum of 9 innings (the length of a normal baseball game) without allowing a single runner to get on base.  This includes not allowing a single walk or hitting a batter (gives the batter an automatic walk to first base).
 
No Hitter (also called a no-no) – when a pitcher goes a minimum of 9 innings without allowing a single hit.  As opposed to a perfect game, a pitcher can still be credited with a no hitter if a batter gets on base through a walk or by an error.
 
Error – when a runner advances a base because of a physical mistake in fielding the ball when perfect execution in the field would have not resulted in the advance.
 
Fielding – As in fielding the ball – the action of collecting the ball by any player on the baseball field.
 
Walk (also called a “base on balls”) – When a batter is pitched 4 balls (as opposed to 3 strikes) he automatically advances to first base.  When a batter is hit by the pitcher, he also advances to first, but it is not statistically counted as a walk.