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A Different Kind of Perfect
Tom Verducci (with special reporting by Melissa Segura)
June 14, 2010
Armando Galarraga lost a place in history, but he and Jim Joyce gave us something sweeter: a lesson in sportsmanship
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June 14, 2010

A Different Kind Of Perfect

Armando Galarraga lost a place in history, but he and Jim Joyce gave us something sweeter: a lesson in sportsmanship

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Galarraga has survived his bumpy professional career with an easygoing attitude, plenty of clubhouse card tricks and a slider that when it behaves properly, he throws as well and as often as any pitcher in baseball. Asked how he felt that night against Cleveland, the righthander said, "My warmup was the same. [But] from the first inning to the last inning? Incredible. It was the kind of day when everything was going my way. It was like I was playing video games. 'I want a fastball down.' Boom! 'I want a fastball up.' Boom! It was like, Damn, I feel good today."

Galarraga's perfect game would have been the third in the majors in 25 days, following those of Oakland's Dallas Braden (May 9) and Philadelphia's Roy Halladay (May 29). When his masterpiece was broken up by an umpire, not a hitter, and he reacted with that smile, Galarraga thought of his mother, Marizat, a chemistry teacher, and father, Pepe, a marine biologist, who raised him in the town of Cumaná and did well to keep him en la linea buena, he says—in the good line.

"In crazy moments they try and lay back and be calm," he says. "To be honest, I never thought I could be like that. But at that moment there was something calm about [me]. I was like, Don't get angry... . He was wrong and apologized. What can I do about that?"

Joyce attended high school in Toledo and college at Bowling Green (where he played baseball) and then did factory work back in Toledo. He was holding down a job assembling driveshafts on Jeeps when, one day in 1977, he jumped in his car and drove to Florida to attend umpire school. He's not sure exactly why; perhaps it was because his father had worked as an umpire for youth baseball games. "It's the proverbial story of wanting to stay in baseball," he says. "My parents thought I was nuts. They said, 'What kind of living can you make as an umpire?' They were right for 10 years."

After a decade in the minors, he became a full-time big league umpire in 1989, going on to quietly work two All-Star Games and 13 postseason series, including the 2001 World Series (when a Secret Service agent posed as a seventh umpire for the ceremonial first pitch by President Bush before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium) and the classic 2004 American League Championship Series. Joyce worked the plate for the pivotal Game 4, the first step in the Red Sox' comeback from a 3--0 series deficit, calling 416 pitches over five hours, two minutes. "It's my 33rd year in baseball," he says, "and until this week I could walk through an airport and nobody knew who I was."

Upon seeing a replay on the night of the blown call, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera said, "It happened to the best umpire we have in our game. The best. And a perfect gentleman. Obviously, it was a mistake. It's a shame for both of them, for the pitcher and the umpire. But I'm telling you, [Joyce] is the best baseball has, and a great guy. It's just a shame."

The first thing Joyce had to explain to his mom was the historical significance of a perfect game. She listened and told him, "You just have to forget it."

"No," Joyce said, "this one is a little hard to just put aside and hope it goes away. I'm going to have to deal with this for awhile."

They stayed up for hours talking about the call, until Ellouise went to bed at 1 a.m. Joyce never did get to sleep—well, perhaps a nap between five and five-thirty in the morning, he says. Soon, though, he realized a new day had dawned. The messages, texts, e-mails and media reports had turned positive, focusing on his courage to quickly admit his mistake and apologize, rather than the call itself.

One of the e-mails he received was sent to Major League Baseball by a 10-year-old boy with spina bifida. The boy was upset because he was having difficulty trying to walk. His physical therapist, the boy said, had told him, "It's coming. Don't cry over spilled milk." The boy wrote, "Tell Mr. Joyce this is just spilled milk."

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