There's no doubt this morning that Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga would rather be known for having thrown the 21st perfect game in major-league history than anything else. But, in a twist of circumstances, Galarraga's performance might go down as the most memorable in baseball history, likely more memorable than any of the 20 perfect games that have been officially recorded. More than that, his class and grace during and after the game said so much more about Galarraga than a perfect game ever could.
By now you've seen the replays. Galarraga was one out away from a perfect game when he got Cleveland's Jason Donald to hit a grounder to first baseman Miguel Cabrera. Galarraga raced to first, took the throw from Cabrera and clearly touched first well before Donald. But umpire Jim Joyce blew the call and Galarraga's entrance into history. Galarraga didn't jump up and down or wave his arms or shout obscenities at Joyce. The 28-year-old Venezuelan simply smiled at Joyce and turned back toward the pitcher's mound to finish his complete, although no longer perfect, game.
When the game ended, Tigers players who had seen the replays accosted Joyce as he left the field, So did Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who screamed in Joyce's face. Galarraga? He shook hands with teammates and quietly walked toward the dugout. Speaking with reporters a short time later, Galarraga showed no hint of anger or resentment. He talked about the empathy he had for Joyce and told reporters he hugged Joyce as Joyce apologized to him.
"He probably feels more bad than me,'' Galarraga said. "Nobody's perfect. Everybody's human.''
Galarraga smiled often in the post-game interview, even joking that maybe he'll throw a couple of more perfect games in his career. Those 10 minutes in front of reporters were more impressive than the 1 hour, 44 minutes he spent tossing his "28-out perfect'' game.
Joyce's reaction was admirable as well. He apologized to Galarraga, admitted to the world that he cost "that kid a perfect game.'' He said he didn't blame the Tigers "one bit'' for their angry reactions on the field after the game. Galarraga said Joyce's eyes were red, as if Joyce had been crying.
Had Joyce gotten the call right, baseball fans would be celebrating Galarraga's pitching today. Instead, we celebrate something better, something more meaningful. We salute Galarraga's character. Galarraga had every right Wednesday night to be angry, bitter and critical. Instead, he showed class, forgiveness, grace. When you think about it, the night really did turn out perfect.