Home > MLB > Rob Neyer Absolutely Nails the Joyce-Galarraga Play

Rob Neyer Absolutely Nails the Joyce-Galarraga Play

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ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer, who often comes off as critical of MLB umpires for reasons I find, at times, to be unjustified, put up this piece this morning, trying to establish some order as to what happened.

While this only covers one of the many issues here, he’s absolutely, 100% right:

Maybe that’s already impossible, but I was watching the game and I’ve now seen the replay many times, and there’s one thing I think too many people are missing … This was not an easy call. Sure, in slo-motion and from the perfect angle, it’s obvious that Jason Donald‘s foot touched first base a split-second after Galarraga controlled the baseball with his foot on the base. But in real time, and from Jim Joyce’s angle?

Not so much.

Miguel Cabrera‘s throw, while perfectly fine, was slightly behind Galarraga as he approached first base, necessitating a slightly backwards shift of Galarraga’s glove. And Galarraga didn’t catch the ball cleanly; after hitting the pocket of the glove, it squirted up toward the edge of the webbing.

Watch the play in real time, imagine that you’re watching it from where Joyce was standing, and then tell me it was an “easy call.”

Yeah, Joyce missed one. Get over it already. He didn’t cost the Tigers a World Championship, or an American League pennant, or a division title, or even a win. He did cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game … but as a few of my more intelligent colleagues have pointed out, Galarraga will be more famous for not throwing this perfect game than he would have been for throwing one. So the only losers are probably the fans in Detroit. I’m sympathetic … but only to a point. This was just one game in a long season of games, and anyway if you can’t handle the occasional sharp pain you don’t have any business following sports.

This could not have been more accurate, and there’s really not a whole lot of healthy debate that can occur on this issue.  Any call that involves the necessity for the pitcher receiving the ball to 1) beat the runner to the base, 2) find the base cleanly, and 3) possess the ball without a bobble, and the human brain is, at some point going to have to fill in the blanks on at least one, if not two of those issues.

You can “see” all of those things, kind of.  But for there to be an ‘safe’ call in that situation, the umpire has to merely doubt that one of those things occurred.  On replay, it’s clear that every one of those qualifiers occurred, and that an out should have been called.  I think, if Jim Joyce had it to do all over again with the exact same look on the exact same play, he would have given the fielding team the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, that’s neither here nor there.  The correct call, according to all possible criteria, was not made.  We have replay to affirm that.  Galarraga, and to a lesser extent, the Tigers and their fans, were screwed.  Most of that is just circumstance.  If Jason Donald instead of hitting that grounder to the right side hits the same ball back up the middle for a weak single, well, the same people are still cheated.  Galarraga loses a perfect game at the very point which it actually became probable, with an out in the ninth.  Austin Jackson still watches his epic/fairytale catch be downgraded to a pretty awesome web gem.  The Tigers still shut out the Indians, who fail to get a runner to second base in the game, and everyone that came to see perfection is cheated just as badly.

In reality, the Tigers got just a little bit closer to perfection than that: they executed that final play about as well as a baseball team could have.  It wasn’t a spectacular defensive play, nor was it one that saved the game, but it was still a really good play by Cabrera and Galarraga.  Joyce, at least, felt that something about the play that could have sealed perfection wasn’t perfect.  He was wrong.  It should have sealed perfection.  But this injustice is not somehow worse with two outs in the ninth than with one out in the sixth.  Donald made a hustle play to reach first base, and while he could have and should have been ruled out, he wasn’t.  In the eyes of the game, Donald — who didn’t have to run this ball out — became the third player in MLB history to break up a perfect game with 2 outs in the ninth.

I say: good for him.  And consider, that with 20 perfect games in MLB history, and three failed perfect games after 26 outs, that the on-base percentage of players in that number 9 hole against perfection is now just .130, or less than Tony Pena Jrs. on base percentage from 2009.  Maybe that should have been lower without Donald reaching, but perfection has been achieved in that situation a lot more than statistical probability would suggest.  How many perfect games might have been the result of a widened strike zone at the end of the game?  Try: all, with a possible exception of Dallas Braden’s, who was behind in the count and got batted ball outs anyway.

Point is, perfection has always been, to an extent, in the hands of the umpires.  For perhaps the first time in history, taking the game out of the hands of the umpire and into the hands of a replay official might have preserved what many thought Galarraga earned.  And while this is a nice rallying point for positive change in our game, the ultimate message — replay or no replay — lies somewhere along the lines of what Neyer touched on: deal with it.

Tigers fans — of whom I have talked to no fewer than 11 of since last night (one of the few benefits of being a Royals fan in Michigan) — you were screwed.  You deserved better.  Non-fans: you’re not the martyrs here.  You’re just annoying.

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