Detroit Armando Galarraga squeezed the ball in his mitt, stepped on first base with his right foot and was ready to celebrate.
What happened next will be the talk of baseball for the rest of this season and likely a lot longer: the perfect game that wasn’t.
Umpire Jim Joyce emphatically called Cleveland’s Jason Donald safe, the Detroit Tigers argued, and a chorus of groans and boos echoed in Comerica Park.
Then Joyce emphatically said he was wrong and later, in tears, hugged Galarraga and apologized.
“It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it,” Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires’ locker room. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.
“I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay,” he said after the Tigers’ 3-0 victory.
Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Joyce asked to speak with Galarraga. Denied the first perfect game in Tigers history, Galarraga appreciated the gesture.
“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say, ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry,”’ Galarraga said. “He felt really bad. He didn’t even shower.”
It’s rare for an umpire to acknowledge a mistake and, in one of the few sports that relies heavily on the human eye, it’s certain to prompt a push for Major League Baseball to use increased replays. Soccer completely rejects using technology to review calls — a position that could create controversy at the World Cup, starting next week in South Africa.
MLB declined comment on Joyce’s call.
“I feel sad,” Galarraga said. “I just watched the replay 20 times, and there’s no way you can call him safe.”
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he thinks it’s worth another look.
“I think it’s something that baseball should look at possibly because if they do change it, it doesn’t affect the game. It doesn’t affect the outcome,” he said after a 9-1 win over Baltimore. “I know it will be the first time that it’s ever happened, but you’re talking about a very unusual circumstance.”
As it stands, baseball replays can only be used for questionable home runs. There’s no appealing a judgment call, either by replay or protest. A blown call by first base umpire Don Denkinger helped tilt the 1985 World Series, and followed him throughout his career.
“I worked with Don Denkinger. I know what he went through, but I had never had a moment like this until tonight,” said the 54-year-old Joyce, who became a full-time major-league umpire in 1989 and has worked two World Series, 11 other playoff series and a pair of All-Star games.
Galarraga was trying for the third perfect game in the majors in a month, including Roy Halladay’s gem last Saturday night. Until this year, there had never even been two perfect games in the same season in the modern era.
On a play teams work on early and often in spring training, Galarraga and first baseman Miguel Cabrera did their jobs on what should’ve been the final out.
Donald hit a grounder in the hole between first and second, Cabrera fielded it and threw to first, where Galarraga caught the ball at least a step ahead of Donald, replays showed.
Cabrera said he didn’t want to talk about it and Donald answered questions from reporters after a long soak in the tub.
“I didn’t know if I beat the throw or not,” Donald said. “But given the circumstances, I thought for sure I’d be called out.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland immediately charged out of the dugout to argue the call to no avail. The next batter grounded out, and Leyland and many of his players angrily let Joyce know how they felt.
“Emotions were running high for everybody and I think that’s why the guys were emotional after the game,” Leyland said. “I wish we wouldn’t have been, but we were. But I think it’s understandable in that case. That’s a pretty sacred thing, something like that.”
The Tigers huddled around one of the two big-screen televisions in their clubhouse, standing stoically and silently as the infamous call was shown over and over.
“I know I played in a perfect game,” Detroit shortstop Ramon Santiago said. “In my mind, on June 2, Armando Galarraga threw a no-hitter. I’m going to get a ball signed by him.”
Galarraga (2-1) was in complete control throughout the night. Then Donald’s groundball became the flash point of the night, and perhaps the season.
After center fielder Austin Jackson made a spectacular catch on Mark Grudzielanek’s leadoff fly in the ninth.
“You just don’t make a better catch than that,” Leyland said.
Mike Redmond then grounded out and Donald came up with two outs. After Joyce’s call, Galarraga quietly went back to work as the crowd started to boo. Cabrera continued to argue as Galarraga quickly retired Trevor Crowe for the one-hit shutout.
“I don’t blame them a bit for anything that was said,” Joyce said. “I would’ve said it myself if I had been Galarraga. I would’ve been the first person in my face, and he never said a word to me.”
Halladay pitched a perfect game for Philadelphia at Florida, and Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics did it against Tampa Bay on May 9. Until then, there had never been two perfect games in the same season in the modern era.
Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez pitched a no-hitter, too, at Atlanta on April 17.
Galarraga struck out three and walked none, and was a most unlikely star. He was recalled from Triple-A Toledo on May 16 after pitching poorly during spring training, losing out in a competition for the final spot in the rotation to Dontrelle Willis, who was traded Tuesday, and Nate Robertson, who was dealt to Florida toward before the team broke camp.
The 28-year-old native of Venezuela had success in 2008, going 13-7, but he had done nothing quite like the masterful performance he had against the Indians.
Cabrera hit his 15th homer to give Detroit a 1-0 lead in the second inning and Magglio Ordonez had an RBI single in the two-run eighth.
Fausto Carmona (4-4) pitched well. He gave up three runs — two earned — on nine hits and no walks.
NOTES: It was Galarraga’s first complete game and first shutout. ... Cleveland’s David Huff will start in the series finale on Thursday, pitching for the first time since getting struck in the head by Alex Rodriguez’s line drive Saturday in a win over the New York Yankees. ... The game lasted 1 hour and 44 minutes, the fastest game Cleveland played since a game in 1982 against Toronto was also played in 104 minutes.