The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
The Saints lost a season, Galarraga lost immortality

Bad calls in sports can be demoralizing.  Just ask New Orleans Saints fans.  Referees and umpires can change the course of a game, a season, and even a player’s career in a split-second by making a poor decision, or the lack of a decision, when performing their officiating duties.

The referee’s “no-call” in the NFC Championship Game last week ruined the season for the Saints, robbing them of a chance for their second Super Bowl appearance.  When you consider the immense struggle and the physical and emotional effort it takes to get to a Super Bowl, the outcome of the Rams game was devastating to Saints players, the organization, and the Who Dat Nation.  Despite the team’s impressive 13-3 record and No. 1 ranking in the NFC playoffs, their season was essentially wasted.  Lawsuits against the NFL, petitions to replay the game, blistering billboard messages, and angry callers on talk radio shows aren’t going to alter the outcome.

There was a Major League Baseball game in 2010 in which Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was the unfortunate victim of a bad call by an umpire.  In his case, the result was Galarraga lost a chance to be remembered for one of the most rare occurrences in all of baseball—a perfect game (when a pitcher retires 27 batters without any of them reaching base by any means). At the time, only 18 perfect games had ever been accomplished in nearly 120 years of the modern era of major-league baseball.

Detroit faced the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park on June 2, 2010, in what was expected to be just a routine contest between two struggling teams.  Except on this day, Galarraga started the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead, but more significantly he hadn’t allowed even one Indians batter to reach base.  He had been a below-average pitcher to this point in his career, so the game had the makings to be the biggest one of his life.

The first Indians batter in the top of the ninth, Mark Grudzielanek, hit a deep fly to center field that Austin Jackson caught with an over-the-shoulder effort.  Mike Redmond then grounded out, bringing Jason Donald to the plate as the Indians’ last hope to break up the perfect game.  Donald hit a ground ball between first and second base that first baseman Miguel Cabrera raced over to field.  He threw the ball to Galarraga who had sprinted to cover first base.  The ball went into Galarraga’s glove just before Donald crossed the base.  But first base umpire Jim Joyce called the runner safe, thereby ending Galarraga’s bid for an obscure perfect game.

The crowd angrily booed Joyce, once a replay in the stadium revealed Joyce’s error.  Since this was at a time before managers’ were allowed to challenge an umpire’s call via replay, there was no changing Joyce’s initial call.

After the game, Joyce admitted he blew the call. “I just cost that kid a perfect game.“  Uncharacteristic of most umpires, he tearfully approached Galarraga in the clubhouse and apologized for his blunder.

Galarraga’s career didn’t amount to much after the near-perfect game either.  Sure, he had newly-found notoriety from the near-perfect game, but he didn’t win many games.  The hard-luck pitcher was completely out of baseball by 2013.  Thus, his only opportunity for achieving baseball immortality was ruined by Joyce.  (By the way, in 2011, Joyce, Galarraga, and author Daniel Paisner collaborated on a book based on the game, Nobody's Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History.)

This is the second consecutive season in which the Saints have suffered a depressing finish in the playoffs.  The emotional cost to the team will be difficult to overcome next season.  Will the Saints be able to rebound as a contender again next year, or will they suffer a similar fate as Galarraga and be remembered as just another hard-luck team?

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