A More Perfect Game: Armando Galarraga's Near-Miss at History
June 2, 2010. 17,738 people gather in Detroit’s Comerica Park to take in a Wednesday night duel between the home-standing Tigers and their division rival, the Cleveland Indians. On a perfect 73-degree night with the city lit up in the background, these fans are treated to a speedy ballgame played in only 1 hour and 44 minutes. The drama-packed in those 104 minutes is the stuff of legend. In the last century and a half, over 218,000 games have been played. 23 of them have been perfect. That night, Armando Galarraga is supposed to throw the 24th. Instead, he tosses a one-hit shutout.
Galarraga rolls through the first two innings and is rewarded by his offense with a solo home run from Miguel Cabrera. As the game goes further into the Detroit night, Galarraga continues to shine. So, too, does Cleveland starter, Roberto Hernandez. Through 7 and a half innings, Hernandez allows only one run on Cabrera’s solo shot. Entering the bottom of the eighth and clinging to a one-run lead, Detroit seeks to give their near-perfect pitcher some cushion.
The bottom half of the eighth begins with Alex Avila lining out to the left field. He is followed by Ramon Santiago, who grounds out to the second base. With two outs, Austin Jackson guides a ground ball through the left side of the infield for a single. Johnny Damon follows him by legging out an infield single on a ground ball to the shortstop. With two on and two outs, Magglio Ordonez lines a ball into deep right-center, plating Jackson easily. Right fielder Shin Soo Choo bobbles the ball, sending Damon to third. Choo then underthrows the relay to the infield, scoring Damon. Detroit opens up a three-run lead before Miguel Cabrera ends the inning with a strikeout.
For the ninth time, Armando Galarraga takes the hill for his date with history. The inning began with Mark Grudzielanek sending a fly ball into center field, where Austin Jackson makes an impressive over-the-shoulder snag to preserve the perfect game bid. Mike Redmond then grounds out on a routine ball hit to shortstop Ramon Santiago. Gallaraga, a fourth-season pro from Venezuela, seems destined for the record books.
26 Cleveland Indians had walked to the plate. 26 had returned to the dugout. Shortstop Jason Donald steps into the box on the 27th. On the night, he is 0-2 with a line out to right and a ground out to short. 17,738 fans rise as Galarraga takes his place on the rubber. The first offering to Donald is an 86 mile per hour breaking ball called a strike. The 0-1 pitch, another 86 mile per hour breaker, is taken in the dirt for ball one. A ball and a strike. Donald steps out of the box, takes two practice swings, adjusts his batting gloves, and climbs back in.
Galarraga goes back to the well with another 86-mph breaking ball, and Donald sends a bouncer between the first and second basemen. First baseman Miguel Cabrera ranges to his right and fields the ball on a backhand. Cabrera sets his feet and fires to Galarraga, covering first. With possession of the ball, Galarraga plants his right foot on first base moments before the arrival of Jason Donald. Galarraga simultaneously raises his arms in triumph and glances to first base umpire Jim Joyce for confirmation.
Joyce, a 23-year veteran, extends his arms and rules Donald safe, saying, “Something just instinctually, instinctively, told me he was safe." He is positive he got the call right. There is no way he missed it. After the third out is made, another play at first base, Tigers manager Jim Leyland runs up to Joyce and screams, “Jimmy! You blew it! You blew it, go look at the video!”
Sent off with a chorus of boos from the Detroit crowd, the umpires walk back to their locker room. Joyce immediately asks the locker room attendant to pull up the tape of the fateful play. Before he gets to the changing area, he is exclaiming, “I hope I got it right! I hope I got it right!” Crew chief Derryl Cousins, Jim Wolf, and Marvin Hudson remain silent. Joyce looks directly at Cousins and asks if he got it right. Cousins contemplates for a moment and says, “I think he was out, Jimmy.” Joyce reacts angrily, rips his clothes off, and begins pacing the room while yelling and cursing. He then checks the tape for the first and only time. He blew it. Marvin Hudson describes the moment saying, “He was beside himself. I felt tremendously bad for him.”
Joyce decides to grant the media access to the umpire’s locker room. He tearfully tells reporters, “I cost the kid a perfect game.” The media files out and in comes Jim Leyland to share a beer with the devastating umpire. Leyland tells Joyce that he missed the call and that he has to move past it. Tigers’ general manager Dave Dombrowski, concerned for Joyce’s well-being, also stops by. Joyce appreciates the gesture but asks Dombrowski if he could speak to Galarraga.
Dombrowski returns with the 28-year-old Venezuelan right-hander, who immediately embraces Joyce and says, “We are all human.” Joyce tearfully apologized in English and Spanish and left the room, unable to speak. Joyce describes that moment, saying, “I can’t even explain the feeling, because there are no words. It’s almost worse than my dad’s death. That’s how bad I felt.”
Joyce eventually departs Comerica on a somber drive to his mother’s home in nearby Toledo, Ohio. Ellouise Joyce has yet to see the play when her son informs her that he had made the biggest mistake of his life. Joyce finally attempts to sleep around 5, logs a half-hour of sleep, and leaves for the final game of the series, in which he was to be the home plate umpire.
Joyce always tries to be the last umpire out of the tunnel, but on June 3rd, he chooses not to be the last out. He says “I didn’t want it to appear like I was making an entrance. I was kind of hoping I’d just blend in.”
He strides slowly towards home plate, listening for a reaction from the home crowd. Tears begin to well in the eyes of the home plate umpire. He finally makes it to home plate to officiate the lineup card exchange, when out walks Armando Galarraga. By the time Joyce is handed the lineup card, he cannot even read the names through the tears in his eyes. This moment marks the final chapter of the Galarraga-Joyce saga.
Armando Galarraga would go to be designated for assignment by the Tigers following the 2010 season and was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Galarraga spent the entirety of the 2011 season with the AAA Reno Aces before becoming a free agent. He would go on to spend time in the organizations of the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, and Texas Rangers before signing with the Chinatrust Brother Elephants of Taiwan and Pericos de Puebla of the Mexican League. Galarraga officially retired from professional baseball in December of 2015. He never threw a perfect game.
Jim Joyce would spend six more seasons as a Major League umpire before formally announcing his retirement in early 2017. In a later interview, all-time games umpired leader Joe West discussed the remainder of Joyce’s career, “People don’t understand that umpires are human beings, their feelings are just like normal people. When they fail in what they’re trying to do, they’re hurt more than anybody. Do you think Jimmy Joyce enjoyed that call at first base when he cost that kid a perfect game? That killed him. That broke his spirit. Whenever I see something that an umpire missed that we can’t fix, I feel for him. I hurt for him because we’ve all been there.”
Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga. Joyce made an irreparable mistake, yet he stood up, admitted his fault, and took it like a man. Galarraga was faced with a brutal injustice that deprived him of his place in history, but as he said, “We are all human.”