With one out away from the third perfect game in a month, a blown call by first base umpire Jim Joyce robbed Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga of his shot at immortality. If recent history is any indication, however, not having that one game may prove beneficial for both Galarraga and the Tigers in the long run.
On May 9, Dallas Braden threw a perfect game on Mother’s Day with his grandmother in attendance. The post-game celebration with his grandmother brought a tear to even the driest eye. That celebration, however, would be the last Braden would have for the next month.
Since that historic day, Braden has gone 0-3 in his last four starts with a 4.45 ERA.
His team hasn’t been much help to him either. In each of his four starts since his perfect game, the team has supplied him a total of four runs of support.
Fast-forward to May 29.
Roy Halladay throws a perfect game against the Marlins. Both local and national media eat up the achievement as well as the unlikelihood of having two perfect games in the same season, let alone the same month. Baseball pundits laud Halladay as the most dominant NL pitcher since Nolan Ryan.
Those praises seem a bit distant now.
Since Halladay’s perfect game, the Phillies have lost six of their last nine, including a sweep at the hands of the Atlanta Braves. Though Halladay’s last outing was solid (7 IP, 2 ER, and 7 SO), his team is still scuffling.
Last season, Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game on July 23 against the Tampa Bay Rays. From that game on, he would post a 2-7 record in 14 starts. In that span, he gave up an average of four runs per game and only worked past the seventh inning twice. The team would finish seven and a half games out of first place, and miss the playoffs.
Over the last 10 years, every pitcher who has thrown a perfect game has failed to make the playoffs.
What can explain the struggles of pitchers and teams who throw perfect games? When a pitcher who has a history of perfection takes the mound, does he tense up in the attempt to reproduce perfection? Does the defense tend to let up, thinking, “He’ll be able to bail us out of trouble?"
If there really is anything to the recent trend, it may be just as well that the Tigers young pitcher missed his date with destiny. The Tigers currently sit three and a half games behind the Twins for first place in the division, but are 5-5 in their last 10.
Galarraga’s first start since that infamous night was pedestrian: five innings pitched, two runs surrendered, and two strikeouts.
If he showed us anything in that firestorm last week, it was that he can maintain his cool and remain unflappable amid ridiculous circumstances.
Who else could have flashed that sly smile after the blown call at first base to break up history? The grace and understanding he displayed in the aftermath was unfathomable in today’s sports culture.
We all expected Galarraga to blow a gasket, and we wouldn’t have blamed him for doing so. But he didn’t. Instead, he’s shown us that understanding and compassion do still have a place in sport.
With an apparent “perfect game curse” on the rise, perhaps a better fate awaits Armando Galarraga. With the way he handled himself last week, he’s certainly proven he deserves it.