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Wise saves day with perfect catch

Don Larsen had Gil McDougald, Len Barker had Tom Veryzer and Kenny Rogers had Rusty Greer. On Thursday afternoon in Chicago, Mark Buehrle had DeWayne Wise.

History will recall that Buehrle became the 18th man to pitch a perfect game, but as it often does when games of this magnitude are recorded, it will need to reserve a special place for an accomplice without whom Buehrle's masterpiece never would have been possible. This time it was Wise, who made what is inarguably the best catch of the season and arguably one of the best in baseball history when he kept the perfect game intact by snaring a long drive off the bat of Tampa Bay's Gabe Kapler before the ball -- and Buehrle's shot at immortality -- could disappear over the left-center field fence.

Inserted as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning, Wise wasted little time proving how wise manager Ozzie Guillen was for putting him in the game when Kapler smoked a 2-2 pitch that seemed destined for the seats. It would have turned Buehrle's gem from unforgettable to forgettable. But Wise sprinted back at full speed, leaped over the wall on the run and snow-coned the ball in his glove. It popped loose momentarily but Wise grabbed it with his bare-hand and tumbled to the ground, holding it up so the umpires could see, and so everyone would believe. Two anticlimactic batters later, Buehrle had his perfect game, and Wise, a journeyman who has never played more than 77 games in a season, had his place in highlight reels for eternity.

"It was probably the best catch I've ever made because of the circumstances. It was kind of crazy, man, because when I jumped, the ball hit my glove at the same time I was hitting the wall. So I didn't realize I had caught it until I fell down and the ball was coming out of my glove, so I reached out and grabbed it."

The same could be said of his chance in the spotlight. Wise has never made much of a dent in his career, which dates to 2000. In fact, because of injuries and ineffectiveness, this is the first time Wise has ever played more than five games in consecutive seasons. He was injured most of the 2007 season and played just five games for the Reds, the team that had drafted him in the fifth round 10 years earlier. The White Sox signed him three weeks into spring training last season, which he spent as a reserve. He won the center field job out of spring training this year, only to separate his shoulder while making a terrific catch. He missed six weeks, and since his return in late May, he's been primarily a defensive replacement, just as he was in his first big league game nine years ago, and just as he was on Thursday when he preserved perfection.

"I was hoping it would stay in there, give him enough room to catch it," said Buehrle, who now joins a roster of perfect game pitchers that includes both the legendary (including Hall of Famers like Cy Young, Jim Bunning, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter and Randy Johnson) and the almost legendary (Dennis Martinez, David Wells, David Cone). But the list of perfect game men is littered too with decidedly imperfect pitchers (see Robertson, Charles; Witt, Mike; and Browning, Tom).

Still, those men form a virtual Mount Olympus compared to those who have so often kept those history-making bids alive. McDougald was a solid infielder for 10 seasons with the dysnastic Yankees in the 1950s who is remembered mostly today for grabbing a Jackie Robinson smash off the glove of third baseman Andy Carey and throwing to first base to nip Robinson and preserve Larsen's perfect game. Veryzer was a weak-hitting shortstop who left but one imprint upon the game: saving Barker's perfecto by showing off his range and just getting Toronto's Alfredo Griffin at first by a nose. And Greer quickly faded to obscurity after some impressive early years with the Rangers, but he will always have a place in the game's pantheon for the diving catch he made in the ninth inning of Rogers' perfect game in 1994.

Greer's catch was similar in that both came from center fielders in the ninth inning, but different because he was coming in on the ball. "I never thought he was going to get it," Rogers said that evening. "I thought that ball was going to drop, no matter what. Then, I thought the ball was going to pop out. "

"I was going to give it my best effort whether I caught it or not," Greer said that night. "No matter what, I was going to dive. I got a pretty good jump, just dove and it fell in my glove."

Greer's hard-charging play was reminiscent of Veryzer's play from 13 years earlier. "I had to come in fast and I almost ended up at first base," Veryzer said after that game.

There are some better-known players who have helped secure perfect games. The Yankees' Chuck Knoblauch did it twice, first for Wells in 1998 when he knocked down a Ron Coomer grounder in the eighth inning before throwing him out, and again the next season for Cone, when he snared a hard-hit one-hopper by Jose Vidro with a backhand stab.

"As soon as he hit it, I said, 'There it goes,"' Cone recalled that day. "When Knoblauch made the great play, I decided there was some kind of Yankee aura. Maybe this was my day. Maybe there is something to this magic."

On Thursday, Buehrle had his share, and so did his center fielder. We should have known, of course. When it comes to perfect games, magic is mandatory.

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