Home MLB'Weekly' Hit Ground Ball Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Perfection

Weekly Hit Ground Ball: Perfection

by Matt Smith

History was made by Mark Buehrle on Thursday.  The White Sox ace pitched only the 18th perfect game in Major League history, mowing down twenty-seven Tampa Bay Rays hitters in order. 

Everyone who witnessed it will have their own story, most of which will begin with a slice of good fortune that made it possible. The 28,000 present at U.S. Cellular Field in particular will always be thankful that they decided to go to the ballpark on that day.  For baseball fans in the UK, we were lucky that the game was being played during the daytime in Chicago, allowing us to follow it live during the British evening.

So long as you knew what was going on. 

I was busy earlier in the evening and got back home at quarter past eight, made myself a cup of tea and then turned on the computer to check my e-mails and look up the latest MLB news.  It’s a routine I’ve followed on a daily basis for several years, but in the last few months it’s been joined by the task of taking a look at my Twitter account as well.  It was there at 20.19 that I was alerted to the makings of an unmissable moment.  Noah Coslov from MLB.com (@mlbcoz for those that want to follow him) passed on the news: “Mark Buehrle is perfect through 5”.  I quickly re-tweeted the message and excitedly logged on to MLB.com to listen to the game.  One hour later and I would have missed it.

A pitcher will often try to play down thoughts of a no-hitter, never mind a potential perfect game, but it starts to cross my mind as a fan when three innings have been completed and batters one through nine have all been retired in order.  Five completed innings is definitely enough time to convince yourself that something big is going to happen, yet the captivating drama of a perfect game comes from the fact that it is so fragile when in process.  The pitcher is walking a tightrope every time he lets the ball fly from his hand, a daring high-wire journey that everyone is led along as well.  A three-ball count pitch just off the corner or a broken bat dribbler is all it takes for the ‘perfecto’ to be ruined within a heartbeat. 

A reminder of this was provided last Sunday when the A’s young lefty Brett Anderson was perfect through six and two-thirds against the Angels.  Bobby Abreu hit a weak single that crushed the hopes of A’s fans, a feeling that was compounded by Oakland’s offense being unable to offer any run support on their way to a 1-0 extra-innings loss.

Buehrle had the luxury of a Josh Fields grand slam in the second inning to work with and he also had the experience of his 2007 no-hitter against the Rangers to draw on.  In one of those crazy coincidences that baseball throws up every once in a while, Eric Cooper was the home plate umpire on that occasion and he was behind the plate again as Buehrle completed the no-hit, perfecto double.  Early run support and a lucky umpire on hand? Buehrle had it easy.

Okay, maybe not.

It wasn’t easy for the pitcher or for those of us following the action.  Despite having an MLB.TV subscription, my instinct was to follow the game via the home White Sox radio feed on GamedayAudio.  I’ve written before about the way baseball and cricket perfectly suit the radio medium and somehow that seems even more the case during moments of tension and drama.

It’s a great shame that the Ashes cricket series isn’t on free-to-air TV, for example, but being able to listen to Test Match Special is preferable in some ways.  There are times when you want to watch the footage (a great catch, a beautifully timed cover drive, Freddie Flintoff’s wicket-taking celebrations etc), yet the power of an audio-only account of the game is completely engrossing.  Because you have to involve yourself in the coverage, combining the commentary and crowd noise to picture the scene in your mind’s eye, the occasion consumes you all the more.

As the bottom of the eighth inning mercifully came and went quickly, the commentator was moved to state “stay here folks”, as if anyone was going anywhere. I hadn’t dared move from my seat since the moment I tuned in.  The normal tension increased before the top of the ninth because the GamedayAudio feed muted the in-between-innings local adverts, leaving silence in its place.  Paranoia took hold as I feared my internet connection might have gone down and it felt like an eternity before the players came back out onto the field ready to get those final three outs. 

It’s the moments of sound followed by suspense that I love most about radio commentary.  The lead-off hitter, Gabe Kapler, helped to produce one such classic example.  The cauldron of noise was shattered by the sound of bat on ball, followed by audible gasps and a holding of breath as I waited, waited, waited and then heard the crowd erupt again as Dewayne Wise made a spectacular catch at the wall to preserve the pursuit of perfection.  It was a magical moment, almost topping the final ‘routine’ ground out by Jason Bartlett that ended the game and started mass celebrations from White Sox players, White Sox fans, and baseball fans around the world.

The celebrations were a combination of great respect for a brilliant achievement and sheer joy at the fortune of experiencing it. An unremarkable evening here in England turned into an unforgettable one thanks to Mark Buehrle and the Internet.  I’ll always be glad that I was able to listen to the perfect game as it happened.

And that I checked my Twitter account at 20.19 that evening.

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Chris July 26, 2009 - 8:12 am

I subscribe to mlb tv, and caught the last few innings of the game. Watching that catch by Wise was a real heart-in-mouth moment, expecially when he juggled it after it popped out of his glove!

Fantastic experience all round!

Thomas Ogilvie July 26, 2009 - 11:50 am

To my great pleasure, I had it on in the background as I surfed the internet. From about the fifth I switched to MLB.tv and caught the rest in real-time. It was great when he clinched it.

Joe Cooter July 26, 2009 - 6:21 pm

Just a couple of things I want to mention about perfect games that I think your readers might find interesting.

1. Statistically speaking a perfect game happens once every 11,000 games and there have only been 17 thrown in the regular season. Larson’s perfect game occurred during the world series and remains the only no-hitter to happen during the post season.

2. One man has had the fortune to broadcast four perfect games. Dodger’s Broadcaster Vin Scully has called four perfect games: Larson in 1956, Koufax in 1965, Browning in 1988, and Martinez in 1989.

3. Two players, have appeared in three perfect games. Alfredo Griffin has had the misfortune of being on three teams that were on the losing end of a perfect games: Barker 1981, Witt 1983. and Browning 1988, while Paul O’niel on the Winning end of three perfect games: Browning 1988, WElls 1998, Cone 1999.

AS you can see there tends to be a pattern of connectedness that arounds perfect games. The Wells and Cone perfect games in particular are connected to the Larsen Perfect game. Wells and Cone happened to be teamates on the 1998 Yankees when Wells no hit the Twins. Wells just so happened to attend the Same high school as Larson. Fourteen months later, Larsen was invited back to re-enact the last pitch of his perfect game as the Yankees were honoring Yogi Berra who had recently reconciled with the Yankees after a period of 15 years. That was when Cone threw his perfect game.

Matt Smith July 26, 2009 - 10:23 pm

Thanks for the info Joe. I saw a bit of the Yankee game the other day where they celebrated the anniversary of Cone’s perfect game. He always comes across as a good guy on the YES broadcasts.

Chico July 27, 2009 - 12:58 am

Matt: The radio announcers for the White Sox are Ed Farmer, former Sox pitcher and Darren Jackson, former White Sox outfielder. TV announcers are Ken Harrelson, former Red Sox player (originator of the batting glove and nickname originator for Sox players) and Steve Stone former White Sox, Cubs and Cy Young winner for the Orioles. The White Sox are the best in MLB at keeping former players around as managers, coaches, front office people, scouts, Minor League coaches and broadcasters. A “family” style organization.

Joe Cooter July 27, 2009 - 9:13 am

I want to say this, with out being disrespectful to fans of other sports, especially cricket. But I don’t think there is any other sport out there, with the exception of bowling, that has found a way to measure perfection. Thier really isn’t any way for other sports to actually measure perfection.


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