White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle leaps into the arms of catcher Ramon Castro following the last out recorded in the 18th perfect game pitched in Major League history.
Baseball is a game where the confluence of history and tradition clash with the modern age — a pastoral pursuit set down in our cynical, urbanized industrial democracy.
This may explain why baseball as professional sport has fallen from the heights it once occupied in its glory days just a few decades ago. The players have become hobos thanks to free agency while shooting themselves full of additives to the point that Dr. Frankenstein might take a keen interest in their off-field training regimen. Owners, once gentlemen sportsmen who operated baseball like a private club, are now giant corporations or fabulously wealthy men who have handed virtual control of their teams to bean counters and sports agents.
Yes, they’ve all tried to ruin the game to the best of their ability. Unions, ESPN, cable and satellite TV, advertisers, and the Commissioner’s office where Bud Selig has shamefully presided over an era that will be long remembered for the drug assisted, performance enhanced feats of sluggers Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa among many others. Pumped up with human growth hormone and muscle building supplements, those players who broke the rules did more than cheat. They betrayed the game itself by artificially giving themselves an advantage not available to players in previous generations.
If there’s one thing about baseball that belongs only to the game itself it is the wonderful world of statistics that allow a fan to roughly measure the performance of a player of today to those of yesteryear. Who was better, Koufax or Randy Johnson? Tom Seaver or Greg Maddux? Would Ruth hit 60 today? This is the real fantasy in baseball and it connects generations to the game unlike any other professional sport.
Today, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle added to the rich history and tradition of the game by pitching the 18th perfect game in baseball history, beating Tampa Bay 5-0. That’s 27 men coming to the plate, and 27 men returning to the bench without reaching base. One hundred years from now, statistics will tell the story. Buehrle threw 116 pitches and recorded 10 fly ball outs, 11 ground outs, and 6 strike outs. He threw 76 strikes and 40 balls in his 9 innings, throwing three balls in a count to only one hitter.
Until the 9th inning, no batted ball caused any of the Sox fielders any trouble. And then leading off the last frame, Tampa Bay right fielder Gabe Kaplan made solid contact with one of Buerhle’s change-ups and sent a line drive deep to left center field. At the crack of the bat, DeWayne Wise, who had entered the game that inning as a defensive replacement for starter Scott Posednik, turned and sprinted for the wall. It looked like a sure hit and perhaps even a home run. But Wise, running full speed, leapt high in the air, stretched out his glove, and the ball somehow found the very top of his mitt. He crashed into the outfield wall padding so hard, the ball fell out of his glove, and while stumbling, trying to regain his balance, he reached out and grabbed the ball with his bare hand, preserving the perfect game in unbelievably spectacular fashion.
Here’s the video. You may have to run it twice to believe your eyes.
Buehrle is not an overpowering pitcher like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, or some others who have achieved pitching perfection. He is something of a throwback — a blue collar pitcher who makes his living on the corners of home plate while keeping hitters off balance with a collection of slow curves, slower changeups, and a fastball that might break a paper bag at 60 feet. He is one of the few pitchers in today’s game who can pitch a game in less than 2 hours — commonplace years ago but a rarity today.
Beyond that, he is unflappable on the mound. He usually has a mischievous smile on his face when walking to and from the dugout, teasing his teammates, exchanging jokes with umpires. He is worshiped by fans and teammates alike. He is the consummate professional ballplayer.
There was a point a couple of years ago where there was a question whether Buehrle would be resigned to another contract. When word began to circulate that the White Sox were considering letting him go the free agency route, the fans raised such a stink that the team shelled out $57 million over 4 years to keep him. Seeing that he is 11-3 this season, almost single-handedly keeping the Sox in the pennant race, that decision to resign him looks like minor genius at this point.
A perfect game is 2 parts luck and one part skill. You can have the best stuff of your career and a batter can swing, breaking his bat while the ball falls 10 feet over the infield for a cheap hit. Happens all the time as do seeing eye ground balls that squirt through the gap between infielders. There are 8 ways you can reach first base safely and in order to pitch a perfect game, the chucker has to avoid all of them for 9 innings. No wonder they are so rare.
It is days like this that make being a baseball fan such a joy. And the fact that it was one of the true nice guys of the game who achieved this immortality only makes it sweeter.