12/29/10 3:56 PM EST
Tigers' Galarraga moves on from 'The Game'
Righty tries to put his brush with perfection in the past
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
If there's a place that doesn't know about Galarraga and his all-but-perfect game, he hasn't found it -- not even the news magazines. Galarraga was hanging around in Austin, Texas, the week before Christmas, and was hearing about it. He has done his fair share of traveling since the season ended, including a trip back to his native Venezuela to be honored by the baseball federation there.
Still, when he heard the news from a reporter that Time Magazine had honored his game as the top sports moment of 2010, even he sounded a bit surprised. It topped all the other perfect games and no-hitters in baseball, beat out the Saints' upset win in the Super Bowl, beat out the World Cup and everything else.
"That's pretty cool," Galarraga said. "It is pretty cool."
It'll no doubt become news again in the coming weeks, when Galarraga and Joyce release the book they co-authored on the feat. But while Galarraga appreciates the attention, he's ready to move on.
"Yeah, I get tired of talking about it," he admitted. "It's something that already happened. It's a good memory, but it's something I don't pay too much attention to now that it's over."
This is the back half of forgive and forget -- and it's part of a season Galarraga wouldn't mind putting aside. He and Joyce owned up to what happened, and struck a friendship in the process. Now, they're going on with their careers. If Joyce's missed call at first base on the Indians' Jason Donald's ground ball June 2 was a shock, the fact that Galarraga won just two more games the entire season was arguably a bigger upset. It certainly upset Galarraga a lot more.
Maybe with the turn of the calendar, Galarraga will get his chance. But there was no avoiding the fact that Galarraga and Joyce became baseball's biggest story of '10. It was a nearly perfect game that completely changed the pitcher's life, and served as a lesson for how others behave in theirs.
Considering how many no-hitters actually were completed, including the perfect games from Dallas Braden on May 9 and Roy Halladay on May 29, it's amazing that the game that fell an out shy would leave a more lasting impression on history. It wasn't simply a story about what actually happened, but how the people involved reacted to it.
Galarraga, having been recalled from Triple-A Toledo a few weeks earlier, was making his first start in nearly two weeks. He was trying badly to find a way to stick in the rotation, as Max Scherzer had also recently returned from Toledo and Dontrelle Willis had been traded a day earlier.
He knew he could have success against Cleveland, the team he beat for three of his 13 wins in '08. But he couldn't have imagined this. It wasn't just perfect in statistics, it was the observation that none of the Indians who stepped to the plate seemed to come close to a hit for the first half of the game. Half of Galarraga's first 26 outs were ground balls -- nearly all of them routine. None of the Tigers behind Galarraga had to come up with a standout play until Austin Jackson ran down Mark Grudzielanek's drive in deep left-center field.
Mike Redmond's ensuing ground ball to short put Galarraga an out away. Three pitches later came Donald's ground ball, Galarraga's dash to first, and Joyce's fateful call.
Joyce's initial observation, you might recall, was that Donald hit the bag before Galarraga caught Miguel Cabrera's toss. That observation lasted about as long as it took Joyce to watch a replay once he heard the Tigers' reaction.
"It was the biggest call of my career," an emotional Joyce told reporters at the time, "and I kicked it. I just cost that kid a perfect game."
Galarraga was initially frustrated. Joyce was crestfallen the entire time. They ended up with a tearful meeting.
"He asked if he could see Armando and I brought Armando in there," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at the time, "and he apologized profusely to him and he said he just felt terrible. They hugged each other and Armando said, 'I understand.'"
Why it happened to Galarraga was just about as odd. He has always had a good personality, rarely visibly upset, but he also fittingly has a perfectionist streak in him. After he won 13 games in '08, he talked about wanting to win 15-20 the next year. That didn't work out, but '10 was his chance at a rebound. And the would-be perfect game could be his springboard.
But the perfect game was the event, and the interest in it followed him for most of the summer. It wasn't like he could simply go back to the mound and pitch another one. For a good month, Galarraga had the interesting dichotomy of having to talk about what it took for him to pitch that near-perfect game, while simply trying to win games from then on out.
And he was still a fifth starter, a reminder that became clear when the Tigers optioned him to Triple-A Toledo the week before the All-Star break to create temporary space for an extra reliever. While the Tigers were getting ready for the season's second half, Galarraga and Joyce were getting ready for the ESPY awards.
"It was tough," manager Jim Leyland said at baseball's Winter Meetings, "because he pitched so much better and only won four games. That was kind of a shame."
But Leyland, as well as Dombrowski, challenged any notion that Galarraga struggled to handle the attention.
"I don't really think that perfect game thing ever became the circus that everybody thought it might become," Leyland continued. "I think it was handled pretty well by everybody -- Galarraga, the media. You know, he had his day and he had his week or two to talk about it and discuss it, and people that wanted to be mad were mad and all that stuff. But I thought that was handled tremendous by both the media and Galarraga, and I thought that got over pretty quick.
"Internally, did he put extra pressure on himself because of that? I can't answer that, but I thought that whole thing was handled tremendous."
Galarraga wondered aloud in early September how he could pitch well and still win just two more games since his flirtation with perfection. He made eight quality starts from June 3 on and ended up with a win, a loss and six no-decisions.
But in the end, Galarraga learned another lesson: Sometimes, the result is out of his control.
"I learned a lot with this season. I really did," Galarraga said at season's end. "I talked about something inside, something every player has inside. When you're a pitcher and you throw your uniform in the laundry on the last day. At some point, you ask, 'Did I have a good year? Not too good. OK, I had a bad year.' But you know what makes me feel better? Right here, in your heart, you're doing everything you can, no matter what happens, no matter the result, if you're doing good or doing bad.
"I know the last 24 starts, I'm doing the best I can. Maybe the result wasn't that great, but when I take off my uniform, I can say I'm doing everything [I can]."