GALARRAGA LOSES A PERFECT GAME ON A BAD CALL — AND A GROUND BALL TO SECOND (NOT FIRST)

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

With all due respect to Dick Young, an imperfect ump cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. Galarraga pitched a perfect game last night in Detroit (a 3-0 win over the Indians). Except that Jim Joyce, a very good umpire, made a very bad call. In fact, a bad call for the ages that might very well trigger instant replay in baseball (more on that later).

A GROUND BALL TO SECOND

With two outs in the ninth, after great plays by Brandon Inge in the fifth and Austin Jackson in the ninth, 27th batter Jason Donald hit a ground ball to second. But a funny thing happened that turned an easy play into a difficult play. First baseman Miguel Cabrera, ranging way too far to his right, fielded the ball cleanly while pitcher Galarraga quickly broke to cover first base. Cabrera, obviously running away from first as he caught the ball, absolutely made the play as he set and threw to first. Galarraga absolutely caught the ball and touched first base just before Donald hit the base.

And Jim Joyce absolutely blew the call.

WHOSE BALL WAS IT ANYWAY?

But whose ball was that? This isn’t the situation, as it is between third baseman and shortstop, where the corner infielder cuts in front of the middle infielder to field anything he can get to (better angle, easier throw to first). In fact, it’s the exact opposite (worse angle, harder throw to first). Caught up in the emotion, Cabrera went after and caught a ball that wasn’t his. You’ve probably seen the play 10 times already; next time you see it, watch where Cabrera throws to first from – it’s got to be almost halfway between first and second, about 40-45 feet.

Can you blame Cabrera for this? Not really. After all, he DID make the play. But Jason Donald is out by two steps if second baseman Carlos Guillen fields an easy grounder (for a second baseman) and throws to first. It’s a “feel” thing for a first baseman and not an easy thing to do. If Guillen does field the ball, there’s no waiting for Jim Joyce to (maybe) blow a call on a close play at first. Give an ump an opportunity to blow a close play and now, more than ever, it seems that he might (or will) (of course, plenty of calls in the “old days” were blown but, with no replay and bad camera angles, often times only the people in the ballpark knew it).

VIRTUALLY EVERYBODY SHOWS SOME CLASS

Obviously, Galarraga would have been well within his rights to have gone ballistic. But he kept his cool and got Trevor Crowe to ground out to third for a complete game one-hit shutout. Even afterwards, he was very cool, saying that “nobody is perfect” (although he was in this game) and showed great respect for umpire Jim Joyce. Joyce, to his eternal credit, didn’t hide in the umps room and was mortified that he made a bad call (“I just cost the kid a perfect game.”). Jim Leyland (correctly) argued vehemently after the play and after the game. But it will forever be filed under the column “What can you do?”

WELL, HERE’S WHAT BASEBALL CAN (AND SHOULD) DO

The veneer of invincibility was long ago stripped away from umpires. With the technology of today, replays from multiple angles and even super-slow motion have shown that, not only are umps fallible, they also often make mistakes. The days of “you are out because I said so” may very well be coming to an end.

This has to set the stage for some kind of instant replay in baseball. Since it is baseball, change will be very slow. But the door was opened once home runs could be reviewed on replay. That was the first step.

This should be the second step: Allow managers one challenge per game (again, you have to start slowly). Even if they are right, don’t give them a second challenge (for now). To review every play would be too much. Nobody could really complain about lengthening the game if only one challenge, right or wrong, were to be allowed to each team (hey, I’m for electrifying the strike zone, but that’s for another time).

SIMILARITIES TO LARSEN?

Absolutely. When Don Larsen pitched his perfect game on October 8, 1956, there were two similar plays to last night’s action. In the second inning, the great Jackie Robinson hit a line drive off of Yankee third baseman Andy Carey’s glove. It went right to shortstop Gil McDougald, who just got Jackie at first (actually, there is still footage of this play around and Jackie looks safe to me – imagine if they had replay back then). In Galarraga’s game, in the top of the fifth, Russell Branyon hit a hard grounder that bounced off Galarraga’s foot towards between third and short. Third baseman Brandon Inge fielded the ball and threw Branyon out at first.

In 1956, the great Mickey Mantle made an excellent running catch in left-center on a line shot hit by Gil Hodges in the top of the fifth. In Galarraga’s game, in the top of the ninth, Austin Jackson made an even better catch on a long fly hit deep to left-center by Mark Grudzielanek.

There’s more: both pitchers only went to a three-ball count on one batter. And, while people are amazed that Larsen only threw 97 pitches in his perfecto, Galarraga only threw 88 in his great gem – and he had to pitch to an extra guy.

The lead sentence of this article was in reference to Dick Young’s lead (actually under writer Joe Trimble’s byline in the New York Daily News) about Larsen’s perfect game in 1956: “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.”

This isn’t to compare Larsen’s game to Galarraga’s from an importance perspective. Obviously, a regular season game on a Wednesday night in June can’t compare in importance to a World Series game. But the similarities are almost eerie.

IN CONCLUSION

It’s very, very sad what happened to Armando Galarraga in Detroit on June 2, 2010. It’s unlikely that he will ever be in that position again. But this can (and should) propel baseball to come into the 21st Century.

Umpire Jim Joyce would probably agree.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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