Almost Perfect- The Armando Galarraga Story

There’s something unexplainable that I love about baseball. The aura of a ballpark; the smells, the sights, the feels, it’s all there when you’re at agame. But there’s something more that I love about it. The simplicity. On any given day or night, either team can win which makes every game intriguing and exciting to watch. It could be the worst pitcher in the league vs the best pitcher, but there’s always a chance that the less successful pitcher’s team can come out on top at the end of the game. That’s exactly what happened on the night of June 2nd, 2010, a night in which a soon to be All-Star pitcher faced a guy who would end the year with a 4-9 record. 17,738 fans gathered in Detroit to watch one of them etch their name in history. Perfection… Well Almost. 

Armando Galarraga was slated to get the ball for the Tigers on this bright June evening. He would be facing future 2010 All Star Roberto Hernandez, who was set to pitch for the Indians. The Tigers were struggling out of the gate to get a consistent start going as they sat at just 26-25 heading into their 52nd game of the season. Cleveland however was much worse, as they held one of the worst records in the MLB heading into play, at 19-31. 

Galarraga was never one of the best pitchers in the league, but he looked to have some of his best stuff this evening as he made quick work of the Indians in the first three innings, retiring all nine hitters in order. At this point, the Tigers had a 1-0 lead on Cleveland, as Miguel Cabrera had hit a towering solo homerun in the bottom of the second. 

The game was flying by and just an hour into the contest the teams were already into the middle of the 5th inning. Galarraga was crafting up something special here, as he was through five innings, completely unscathed and perfect. To put it simply, he was cruising and the Indians were having a near impossible putting solid contact on the ball. Galarraga wasn’t carving the Indians up and striking out the side every inning, but was rather pitching efficiently to each batter to find their weakness and produce weak contact that resulted in an out.

The 6th, 7th, and 8th inning came and went, and Galarraga was still perfect, a near impossible feat for any pitcher to pull off. At the time Galarraga was vying for the 21st perfect game in MLB history, just 5 days after the 20th had been thrown by the late Roy Halladay. MLB networked had picked up the game, and the action was now being televised on national TV. As Galarraga emerged from the Tigers dugout for the ninth inning he was met with a deafening applause, as the fans knew what was at stake if he could record just three more outs.

Mark Grudzielank was the first to bat in the 9th inning for Cleveland. He swung at the first pitch and hit a deep fly ball to left center field, which drove Tigers center fielder to the warning track, causing him to make an amazing sprawling catch to save the perfect game. Next up was Mike Redmond, who was only 2 years away from being named the manager of the Miami Marlins. Redmond was able to work a 1-2 count on Galarraga, before he chopped a soft ground ball to the Tigers shortstop Ramon Santiago, who quickly tossed the ball over to first for the second out of the inning. 

 Now, there was only one thing standing between Galarraga and a perfect game, Indians shortstop Jason Donald, who would only appear in 170 games in his career, but was about to have arguably the biggest moment of his career. Donald watched the first pitch travel over the plate, and Galarraga was only two strikes away from the record books. Pitch two sailed outside to move the count to 1-1, but the next pitch would arguably be one of the most tantalizing in the history of the MLB. Galarraga worked from the windup and threw a hard cutting slider on the outer half of the plate, which caused Donald to lunge for the pitch and slowly tap the ball in the hole between first and second base. Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera rushed over to pick the ball up, and Galarraga sprinted to the base to cover for Cabrera. Cabrera picked up the ball and fired a strike to Galarraga who was now inches away from first base, and just milliseconds ahead of Donald. Galarrage caught the ball, taped the base, and turned to watch umpire Jim Joyce make one of the worst calls in the history of baseball. 

Safe! Joyce proclaimed as Cabrera and Galaragas hands rose to the top of their heads in disbelief. The stadium erupted in boos as it looked very convincing that Donald was out by at least a step to the naked eye. The TV broadcast quickly cut away to a replay where it could easily be seen that Galarraga's foot reached the bags before Donald’s did. Remember, this was before video replay review, which may have helped Galarraga's case in today's game.Tigers manager Jim Leyland sprinted out of the dugout to confront Joyce, who was holding strong on his opinion when talking to Leyland. After a few minutes of disbelief from the fans, players, and coaching staff, the game resumed for Galarraga to record the 27th out of the game for a one hit complete game shutout. 

Was it the 28th out of the game? Definitely, and I don’t think that you can argue any differently after it was clear as day that Donalds foot hadn’t touched the base yet once Galarraga reached the bag. I truly think that this is one of the hardest plays in baseball to watch, as I know what is going to happen every time, yet I know that it’s the wrong call. I feel horrible for Galarraga, especially because he didn’t have a great career and is primarily remembered for the botched call that cost him a perfect game. The 10th anniversary of the game occurred just last week and there are multiple interviews with Galarraga explaining how he felt, and what happened, which are worth a listen to. If this had happened in the past few years with video replay would the MLB have an extra perfect game in the history books? Absolutely, and I believe that this game is one of the reasons why the MLB moved swiftly to implement a replay review over the next few seasons. Galarraga may have missed out on a perfect game, but his performance that day will always be remembered, as the only time an MLB pitcher recorded a 28 out, almost perfect game.

- Andrew Gardner UNH '23  

Leave a comment