Halladay should enjoy his perfecto -- before the next one happens
So you are no doubt asking: What the heck is going on here? Another perfect game? These used to be the rarest of feats. Perfect games used to be like solar eclipses and cheerful Pearl Jam songs. Now, they happen about as often as 100-degree days in Arizona. It's strange. One of the few joyous moments of my sports childhood happened in 1981 when Cleveland's
Now? Well, Oakland's
Halladay's perfecto was the third in baseball in less than a year, which is unprecedented -- there was only one perfect game in the 41 years between 1923 and 1964, and that was
You always have to be weary of calling anything "a trend." You might remember that crazy May in 2002 when
Still, there does seem something a bit more at play here with all these perfect games. After all, there have been a few near-misses too.
It seems to me -- and, again, I don't want to try and read too much into things -- that a bit of the mystique of the perfect game has faded. One of the most fascinating bits of sports history to me revolves around
Well, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile on May 6, 1954, and it was a major event -- later chosen by many as the greatest athletic achievement of the 20th century. But here's the fascinating bit: 46 days later,
Now, much of this was probably just the natural progression of things. In track, times get faster over time. But I do think that once Bannister broke the four-minute barrier, well, he showed it wasn't a "barrier" at all. He created a new pace for runners, a pace that they would have to achieve if they wanted to be the fastest in the world. And there are always people who want to be the fastest in the world.
I can't help but wonder if that's what is going on with the perfect game now. For years, there were all these crazy superstitions built around the perfect pitcher: Don't talk to the pitcher. ... Don't mention it on the radio. ... Managers have to stay in exactly the same position. I have always found it telling that
And then, think about this: Even AFTER Bunning threw his perfect game, the strange customs of not talking to the pitcher and not mentioning the perfect game and all that stayed intact. That's pretty weird, no? For 80 years, with more or less everyone following all these superstitions, there was not a single perfect game in the National League. Then, Bunning comes along, breaks every one of those mirrors, walks under every perfect-game ladder, crosses every baseball black cat and actually DOES THROW a perfect game. And, somehow, people continued to believe in the superstitions more than they believed in Bunning's perfecto.
Faded versions of those perfect-game superstitions exist now -- players still tend to avoid the pitcher throwing a perfecto -- but it really isn't as big a deal. Announcers will tell their viewers and listeners about a perfect game. Fans will buzz about it while it's happening. Like I say, I think some of the mystique is gone. It's certainly very difficult to retire 27 batters in a row, but it seems that now pitchers aren't making it ANY MORE difficult than it needs to be. Everyone knows it's possible. What was so telling about Braden's perfect game -- and then Halladay's on Saturday -- was that there really wasn't much drama. The ninth innings were without incident or the need for great plays. I have no doubt that the pitchers' nerves were jangling; but, if anything, the hitters looked even more nervous.
If you were paying attention to the right thing, you might have predicted that Saturday was going to be Halladay's night, based on the first batter he faced. That first batter was
Second inning, there was a little bit more of the same.
One of the beautiful things about Roy Halladay is that, more than anyone of his time, he seems beyond pitch counts. He's very efficient with his pitches, of course. Since 2005 he has thrown 39 complete games --
But, he also has a great sense of how to maintain his stuff through outings. He doesn't seem to tire the way other pitchers do. He threw 132 pitches in losing a tough 2-1 game against Pittsburgh -- there never seemed to be any way that he was coming out. And so in this game he would throw 115 pitches, but there just never seemed to be any way that he was going to give up the walk or infield single or error that could bust up the perfecto. He was indomitable out there. He had a seven-pitch battle with Uggla in the fifth before striking him out. He worked a three-ball count to
He then had his final tough battle of the game -- against Ramirez. He almost hit him with a pitch -- wouldn't THAT have been a lousy way to lose perfection -- and then on a full count, Halladay threw an inside cutter right on the cusp. His control is so good, so precise, so overwhelming that it doesn't just challenge hitters -- it challenges umpires, too. DiMuro called it strike three.
It was a thing of beauty -- a perfect reduction of the Roy Halladay pitching genius. He was working the alleys, daring hitters, imposing his will. Other pitchers look at Halladay as a freak of nature -- nobody else can throw that heavy, cutting fastball on the corner time after time after time. Nobody else has the same knack for making hitters' bats feel hollow. Cantu came closest to getting a hit in the eighth -- he smashed a hard grounder that third baseman
And Halladay did not stop smiling for a while after that. To be honest, it was a little bit strange to see that smile -- we are so used to the hard look that Halladay wears on the mound, a man at work. But, undoubtedly, he wants to enjoy his moment in time, his sweet moment of perfection. He should enjoy it. The man is having a Hall of Fame career, and this is the pinnacle right here. And, let's be honest, it could be only a matter of hours before the next perfect game happens.