Perhaps the game was perfect after all.
Perhaps the game was perfect after all. How can I let the hottest story in sports a week ago get by without at least a comment? If you’re not a baseball aficionado, let me set the story up first. The great American (and now international—I grew up in Japan playing it with Nipponese fervor) pastime of baseball is a game played over 9 innings, in which each team comes to bat once each inning and can remain at bat (swinging, hitting, missing the 90+ mph balls thrown at or near each batter by the pitcher) until the team accumulates three outs (a strikeout [three swings that missed], a hit that is caught or thrown to first base before the batter can race to the bag, or being forced out as a runner by a teammate’s hit ). Whew—this explanation business is more difficult than I thought—we should’ve gone into cricket instead (just kidding—really)! Anyway, the team that scores the most runs (one point per runner who circles the three bases and returns to home plate before the inning is over) wins. Still want to play?
Last week a young Detroit Tigers (that’s a team name) Venezuelan pitcher, Armando Galarraga, was on his way to the unthinkable. Pitching against the Cleveland Indians, Galarraga was pitching an absolutely perfect game—meaning, every Cleveland batter that stepped beside home plate to swing at his pitches struck out or hit into an out (on the ground or in the air). For nine innings Galarraga ruled the game! Not a single opposing batter was able to hit against him. Period. If he continued on that phenomenal streak, he would end up pitching a “perfect game”—27 batters up, 27 batters down (out) with no hits, no walks, no errors. A perfect game in baseball is so rare that it has only happened 20 times in baseball history, or on the average of once every 19,595 games! I.e., 28-year-old pitcher Galarraga was on his way to making history, very major baseball history. In fact, it all came down to the 27th batter—get him out—and Galarraga has his perfect game. And sure enough, the batter hits a fast groundball between first and second base, the first baseman runs to snag the hit, Galarraga instinctively races to first base to catch the first baseman’s throw—for an easy out—and a perfect game—and history forever! When suddenly first base umpire Jim Joyce threw his arms sideways, indicating that the runner was safe. The stunned Detroit stadium erupted in boos, Detroit manager Jim Leyland raced across the field to protest the call, all the while TV screens across the nation replayed the throw, showing clearly that the runner was out and the perfect game was in fact perfect. But all to no avail. Umpire Joyce wouldn’t budge.
Until after the game when the umpire was shown a television replay of his botched call. The runner truly had been out—Joyce had made the wrong call, costing the young pitcher a place in immortalized baseball lore. And then it was that this story took a most unfamiliar turn. While the cameras are running, with tears and quivering lip the umpire sought out Galarraga and—can you believe it?—apologized to the pitcher for having made the wrong call. And wonder of wonders—with the cameras and microphones still running—instead of recrimination and blame, Galarraga graciously forgives the umpire and waves it off as an honest mistake. AP writer Ben Walker later opined: “Bad calls are part of the mix in sports . . . . But something about this one—the chance to right a wrong, the heartfelt emotions of everyone involved—reached way past the lines. ‘I’ve got to say we’ll never see it again in our lifetime,’ New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.” Maybe not.
Look—I’m not a softy, but I’ll confess to eyes welled up as I listened to the heartbroken confession and the compassionate forgiveness of these two grown men. In a world so devoid of such transparency, what a gift. Maybe it really was a perfect game after all. For what could be a grander reflection of a grace divine than this display near the pitcher’s mound in baseball? When the God of heaven—who probably isn’t a baseball fan at all—moves upon the hearts of his earth children and for a fleeting moment we see grace divine lived out in lives utterly human, there is something akin to perfection for while, isn’t there? May the poet W. H. Auden was right: “I know nothing, except what everyone knows—if there when Grace dances, I should dance.”