Was Matt Cain's Perfect Game Saved by the Umpire?

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Was Matt Cain's Perfect Game Saved by the Umpire?
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Umpire Mike Muchlinski

It just wouldn't be baseball without a little controversy, especially when video evidence appears to indicate Matt Cain's perfect game Wednesday night was just a glorified one-hitter after all.

Nary one full week ago, I discussed this exact phenomenon—after all, an article titled "MLB on Pace for Record-Breaking 11 No-Hitters Thanks to Human Element" pretty much sums up the gist of the one blemish to be found in Cain's mid-week gem.

Had Nostradamus been around for Major League Baseball, he might have predicted it, but because the man predated even cricket, Kansas City Royals legend Dick Howser will have to do. Upset and frustrated about his poor team in 1984, Howser fervidly opined, "I don't want the worst umpire in the league telling me where we are in the standings!"

Yet the Houston Astros—the National League Central's basement-level roommates of the Chicago Cubs—found themselves on the short end of the officiating stick Wednesday.

In the seventh inning, first-base umpire Mike Muchlinski ruled a 1-2 batted ball by Jordan Schafer foul despite video evidence—not to mention the laws of physics—suggesting the bounding ball nicked the first-base bag during its journey into the right-field bullpen.

This isn't the first time nor is Muchlinski the league's worst umpire—indeed, he is one of its rising stars.

On June 1, third-base umpire Adrian Johnson missed a key call to preserve New York Mets hurler Johan Santana's no-hitter. St. Louis Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran hit a screamer past third base that landed on the left-field foul line as Johnson raised his arms to indicate a foul ball, negating a Cardinals double and, more importantly, keeping the Mets' first no-hitter in franchise history alive.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Umpire Ted Barrett (second from left) is the first umpire in MLB history to have worked home plate for two perfect games. Umpire Brian Runge (No. 18, left) recently became the 10th official to have called balls and strikes for two no-hitters during the same season. Also pictured are umpires Tim McClelland (right) and Marvin Hudson.

On June 8, the Los Angeles Dodgers were no-hit by six Seattle Mariners pitchers, thanks in part to an extremely close call at first base wherein umpire Ted Barrett ruled Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon out on a bang-bang play.

And speaking of Barrett, he might deserve as much congratulations as Cain. With Wednesday's perfecto in the books, Barrett is the first MLB umpire to have ever called balls and strikes for two perfect games during his career. Barrett also called David Cone's perfect game on July 18, 1999.

With Wednesday's no-hitter, Barrett's crew—or at least he and third-base umpire Brian Runge, as Muchlinski and second-base umpire Angel Campos are Triple-A vacation fill-in umpires—has now officiated three of the five no-hitters pitched in 2012. Never before has one umpiring crew officiated three no-nos in one season.

Sure, it might just be the magic of Barrett and Runge or even the ever-so-human umpiring desire to avoid becoming Jim Joyce 2.0—the sequel to 2010's imperfect game in Detroit—yet one fact is absolutely indisputable.

MLB has never in its history seen five no-hitters through its first 935 games. Never in MLB history have five no-nos been thrown before the All-Star break.

Yet by the same token, never has high definition been so widespread. Never has the rewind button been so abused and never has slow-mo made the sport about as exciting as watching paint dry.

Never have umpires' calls been so scrutinized—never has a no-no been called a one-one, employing conclusive video evidence to support the claim.

Yes, Cain may have been saved by the umpire, though after instant replay review, it appears the human element—both on the field and in the living room—has greatly contributed to the mystique of baseball's defensive dream. 

 

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.

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