The Art of the Perfect Game (Or, How to Get Really, Really Lucky)
"It was a million-to-one shot, Doc."
Nick Swisher got three hits. Robinson Cano doubled twice. And Andy Pettitte retired the first twenty hitters he faced before fate, and the law of large numbers, caught up with him.
There have been eighteen perfect games in the history of the Major Leagues. No pitcher has ever thrown two. The last time two pitchers threw one in the same year was 1880. And in an age where every single record and every single star is doubted, it is perhaps the only record besides DiMaggio's hitting streak that is cheat-proof.
And that's because there's just so many different little things that can go wrong.
For instance, the average major league fielder has a fielding percentage of somewhere between .920 and .980; the average major league hitter has an on-base percentage of about .330; and even the very best major league starting pitchers allow an average of more than a base-runner per inning.
The field is not made of smooth substances, but rather dirt and grass, which can cause bad hops. A bench coach or infield coach can move a shortstop three steps this way or that, and the ball can get hit right to them - or right to where they were standing before.
And even the most durable ballplayers sometimes need a night off over the course of a 162-game season. And no matter how good the tenth man is, he's still probably not as talented as the starting nine. And he's probably rusty.
Enter Jerry Hairston, Jr.
Two outs, bottom of the seventh, Pettitte has been absolutely unstoppable so far. He throws a 1-1 cutter to Adam Jones, and it's not spotted perfectly, but Jones still beats it into the ground, directly to third base. Alex Rodriguez, still feeling the after-effects from his February hip surgery, is not on the field. Girardi felt like resting him today.
His replacement, Hairston, can play six defensive positions well. To this point in his time with the Yankees, since his trade here on July 31, he has not made a single error.
The ball takes a slightly funny hop on the lip of the infield grass, hangs in the air a little bit longer than Hairston expects it to, and bounces off the heel of his glove, and then his rear, and past him into short left field.
The no-hitter is still intact. But Pettitte is rattled, and the inevitable hit comes off the bat of the next Oriole to come to the plate.
Hairston's new nickname for the week is Fusili Jerry (and if you've seen the Seinfeld episode I quoted at the top, you'll understand why and probably cringe a little as you laugh).
There's no blame to go around. This is just baseball. There's a reason only eighteen pitchers have thrown a perfect game over one hundred thirty-three years and about five hundred thousand individual starts. It's as close to impossible as any feat in sports.
And all there is left to do, in the aftermath, with this routine 5-1 victory is ask "What if?"
I'm absolutely convinced Andy would have gotten it. I mean, I know I'm just being a homer because he's my favorite pitcher on my favorite team, but the way he looked for the first twenty hitters? I'm sure he would have finished up.
This game is torture.
I love this game.
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