A Perfect Summer Afternoon…
Unbelievable. I have seen countless amazing events recapped on Sportscenter or read about them after the fact, but I can count only a handful of meaningful events that I have had the pleasure of seeing live: Sam Perkins game winning three-pointer against the Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson’s memorable MVP performance in the All-Star game in Orlando, Tyus Edney’s full court sprint to the basket to give UCLA the win over Missouri in the 1995 NCAA Tournament, and Derek Fisher’s 0.4 shot against the Spurs.
But I had never seen anything truly special live in baseball until today…when I got to see Mark Buehrle close out the 18th perfect game in MLB history.
Thanks to Ben, who informed me that Buehrle was close and thanks to my MLB.tv subscription that I have been regretting all year (because I still miss so many games), I was able to tune into the ninth inning. For every perfect game realized their are hundreds upon hundreds of near misses. The chances that Buehrle would pull this off were slim, even with only three outs left.
The Chicago crowd was electric, the announcers trying their best not to say anything that would ruin the moment.
Let’s take this to Chicago where the top of the ninth is about to get under way…
Gabe Kapler strides to the plate and works Buehrle into a 2-2 count, before BELTING a ball into the left-center field gap.
DeWayne Wise had just come into the game this inning as a defensive replacement for Carlos Quentin and shifted into the center field spot. The ball looks like it’s gone and it is heading over the wall. But Wise reaches up and somehow gets a glove around the ball and brings it back into the park. Elation turns to fear in an instant as he loses control of the ball on his way back down. Before the South Side faithful can despair, he tumbles to the ground but grabs the ball firmly into his glove and casually throws the ball back into the infield.
Michel Hernandez is next, the Rays backup catcher. He quiets the crowd quickly by working a 3-1 count. But Buehrle gets a breaking ball on the corner of the plate. Then, BAM! Strike three swinging!
All-Star, Jason Bartlet, now stands between disappointment and history. The crowd is frenzied, every fan is on their feet. Baseball is perfect for moments like these. In football, there are too few instances where it all comes down to one play. In basketball, the action simply moves to fast for everyone to catch a breath before something big happens. But baseball… allows you to think about it. To imagine, to process, to worry, to fret that the moment might not happen. And that’s part of why the game is so great.
Bartlet gets a 1-1 count before finally putting the bat on the ball. In that split second, watching on television, you know the angle and speed of the ball means it will go right to the shortstop and be an easy play. But it’s never easy when history is on the line. A routine grounder now becomes a potential heart attack (lets call this the Juan Uribe Corollary).
The ball scoots into the glove of shortstop Alexei Ramirez (who I must admit at that moment I had no faith in) and he shoots a laser at first baseman Josh Fields (another big hero with his grand slam earlier), who snags it for the out.
Three outs. Euphoria.
The celebrations sadly are never as great as the moments leading up to the achievement. Everyone was done jumping around after a few minutes and soon enough Mark Buehrle was talking to reporters and bloggers alike, recounting the win. Dewayne Wise, with his .196 batting average, was for once a hero, getting cameras pointed at him and questions asked like he was the star. And for the first time, maybe he was.
I am so privileged to have watched this moment. I still have goosebumps. It makes me remember why I love this game. A hundred years of history saying an achievement will almost assuredly not be done, matched against thousands who hope it still can. And for a thrilling change, history lost and hope prevailed.