A year ago today, Jim Joyce took away what should've been the first perfect game in Detroit Tigers history. Instead, we have a Jim Joyce/Armando Galarraga co-authored book with a life lesson, 28 Up 28 Down t-shirts, and this.
A year ago today, the day Jim Joyce would turn baseball on its head, my brother sent me a text message as I sat in the middle of a three-hour Health Care Law class:
I knew instantly what was going on, but I had to do a double-take when I saw it was Galarraga a/k/a Gags. You see, the '_______ looks good through five' text is my brother and I's fairly transparent code to notify one another, when we know the other is busy and unable to watch the game, that the Tigers pitcher is currently throwing a no-hitter or perfect game without completely jinxing it. Yeah, we're pretty superstitious.
"Justin Verlander looks good through five," is what I texted him on June 12, 2007, the night Verlander threw the first ever-in-our-lifetime Tigers no-hitter. "Justin Verlander looks good through five," is what he texted me on May 7 last month, while I was at a wedding, prompting me to turn on my MLB At Bat iPhone application for the final four innings, much to the dismay of my adorable wife. And that's honestly the extent of it -- I really don't think we've had to use that any other time, because we don't miss many Tigers games; we just miss the best ones, apparently.
Anyway, I thought for sure I would have to watch the first perfect game in Tigers history on my freaking, mute computer, while sitting in class. I was unconsciously bouncing my legs up and down unremittingly as Galarraga made it through a perfect sixth. I started to formulate an exit strategy from class. Then, completely out of the blue and reason still unknown to me because I wasn't remotely paying attention, my professor dismissed the class almost an hour early. I literally jumped out of my seat, slammed my computer shut, grabbed my belongings, and started an aggressive sprint toward the parking deck, stopping for almost nothing.
As I raced home to catch the final innings, my brother texted me updates along the way. 1-2-3 seventh. Ahhhh, slow down. I parked, like a glove, just as Galarraga was set to take the mound for the eighth inning. I stormed into my apartment, dismissed my aforementioned wife, who was on the phone with her mom and watching Friends or something, to the other room, and put on the game, which was now predictably airing on MLB Network.
I called my brother to let him know that I was home, watching, and wouldn't need text updates. Hafner GROUNDOUT! Okay, now we were yelling at each other, as we both watched the same thing unfold. Peralta STRIKE OUT! Galarraga is Nolan Ryan. Branyan GROUNDOUT!
The Tigers hit their turn, added an insurance run to make it 3-0 -- a big run, unbeknownst at the time -- and, then, Galarraga took to the hill for the ninth inning with over 17,000 fans at the game on their feet and this fan jumping up and down in his living room, incoherently yelling into the phone like Gus Johnson calling a buzzer beater.
Mark Grudzielanek hit Galarraga's first offering of the ninth a mile to left-center, but not deep enough to be a homer at Comerica Park. Austin Jackson, a little overachieving rookie at the time, ran all the way from right-center to make a Willie Mays-like catch that induced several vinegar strokes, myself included. Through it all -- somehow -- I remained on the line with my brother, but the 'conversation' degenerated to heavy panting and beeps from random buttons being pushed during said celebration. Jackson's catch was surely the Dwayne Wise moment, confirming to everyone that Galarraga was about to toss a perfecto.
Redmond GROUNDOUT... it was really happening. I was now jumping up and down uncontrollably, head butting the walls and removing pieces of clothing. I felt like I was rolling and I have no idea what rolling feels like. Then, Galarraga delivered the 1-1 pitch to Jason Donald and the world -- except the play -- seemingly froze. Donald put the ball in play. I started to process it. Ground ball. Near second base. Miguel Cabrera (?!?) cuts it off. Turns. Throws. Oh, good, Galarraga's there.
"He's Ou-no! He's safe." [Breathe]
Wait, what? I was in complete and utter, heart-in-my-stomach, Santa-isn't-real, Heath-Ledger-just-died shock.
I know now Mario Impemba said his name almost immediately after, but Oh, my goodness, Jim Joyce, nooooo,' from Rod Allen was the first I learned of who had first base umpiring duties that night.
I didn't waste any time.
Still on the phone, I began cussing out Jim Joyce and his safe call on my HD television, inadvertently spitting, and, in turn, making it very low-def. My wife came out of the other room to see what was going on. I whipped around to face her and had to have envisioned her with a fu-manchu, because I inexplicably began cussing her out, you don't even know! If she slapped me, I didn't feel it.
I simmered, looked for my phone, which had been thrown somewhere. I had only needed to see just one replay and saw enough to know Joyce blew it. Mario Impemba and Rod Allen reassured me.
My brother was surprisingly still on the other end when i found my phone. We woosah'd each other back to sanity and discussed how big of a deal this was going to be (Galarraga had already gotten the final out and completed the game). By the time we hung up, I decided I was just going to call it a perfect game anyway. I tweeted it, I Facebook status'd it, I blogged it. I even bought a 28 Up, 28 Down t-shirt (a day or two later), which also signified how much money I had to raise & give away to buy it. No matter how hard I tried, it wasn't going to be a perfect game.
Then stories started to surface about what was going on behind the scenes after the near-perfect game, reminding us (or pointing out for the first time) just how calm and collected Galarraga was immediately after Joyce wrongly ruled Donald safe -- it was unprecedented in the history of sportsmanship [taken from my more sedated write up a year ago]:
After the game, when teammate Gerald Laird and skipper Jim Leyland had to be restrained from getting at umpire Jim Joyce, Armando Galarraga moseyed his way through the high five line with the same expressionless face he rocked for the last two hours. As the fans continued to incessently boo Jim Joyce, Galarraga started to head off the field. On his way, he took off his hat and gave a (sarcastic?) wave to the still jeering crowd.
In his postgame interview on the field, all Galarraga could do was laugh. He was clearly still in shock, perhaps at how well he pitched, but most likely because he was just one proper call away from a perfect game - the third in the MLB in the last three weeks and the first in Tigers and Venezuelan history.
At that point, which he later admitted on Baseball Tonight, he didn't know if Jason Donald was safe or indeed out. He honestly did not know. And that might help explain why he kept his cool. Once he sees the replay, he'll lose it, right?
Even after he saw the replay in the clubhouse, and knew Jim Joyce was clearly wrong, Galarraga peacefully gave the benefit of the doubt to the erring umpire.
"Nobody's perfect," Galarraga said.
Joyce sought out Galarraga to apologize, they hugged it out and, less than 12 hours later, shared a moment at home plate as Joyce cried, Galarraga giggled, and fewer fans seethed. Despite publicly burying the hatchet, Joyce still wallowed in depression. Seven months after the fact even, Joyce said a day still doesn't go by without him thinking about blowing that call, describing it as being almost worse than his father's death. That's heavy.
Seriously, you couldn't script this any better for the book that hits shelves today, which I'll read someday (and as long as Pink isn't on the soundtrack, I'll look forward to the movie, too). June 2, 2010: the day we all learned a little something about reacting perfectly to an imperfect situation. No, I'm not talking about how I've handled the 'looks good through five' text messages, although I have handled those well, right? I'm talking about Galarraga and Joyce.
Now, can someone do me a favor and photoshop their faces onto a Year One movie poster to commemorate this day? Perrrrrrfect, thanks.