My - well, Mike's - chance at perfection
Red Sox outfielder Carl Everett ruined my perfect game. Actually, he ruined Mike Mussina's perfect game, but it seemed as much mine as his. I hope Mike is taking it better than I am.
Sports is one of the last bastions of life's unscripted moments. In a world where politicians study polls and pay speechwriters, and where the masses turn on reality TV, yearning for some spontaneity in their entertainment, every night on every ballfield the outcome is in doubt until the last ball is thrown.
So it was Sunday night at Fenway Park, where the archrival New York Yankees faced the Boston Red Sox. Mussina was one pitch from baseball immortality, and I was there. "Moose" was awesome. The Yankee right-hander struck out five of the first six Red Sox batters. Harmless grounders and soft fly balls were the best they could manage. His fast-ball was pure smoke. His curve-ball danced.
But with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and the Fenway faithful on their feet - torn between pulling for their guy to get a hit and wanting to witness baseball history - Everett knocked a high fast-ball into left centerfield and ended it all. He handed Mussina his fourth career one-hitter, and me my first.
I was robbed.
In baseball, the perfect game is the pearl in the oyster. A person has a better chance of being elected president than pitching a perfect game. There have been 16 perfect games - where the pitcher retires all 27 batters without one reaching base - in the past 120 years. There have been 24 presidents during that time. A perfect game happens on average once every 7-1/2 years. With 2,420 baseball games played per season, I'd have to go to 18,150 games for a reasonable shot at seeing a perfect game. I don't have that kind of cash.
Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that I've witnessed a no-hitter - the one tossed by Jim Abbott back in 1993 at Yankee Stadium. Compared with perfect games, no-hitters are downright commonplace. If perfect games are the president, no-hitters are senators. One-hitters are the town dog-catcher.
Perfect games are no guarantee of fame and fortune. Just as there is a John Tyler for every Abraham Lincoln, there's a Charlie Robertson (perfect game, 1922) for every Sandy Koufax. But posterity has a perfect memory. Millard Fillmore keeps the company of Thomas Jefferson. Tom Browning (perfect game, 1988) can claim fraternity with Cy Young.
More important, perfect games guarantee fodder for the "something to tell your grandkids" department. How many youngsters have tried to escape their grandfathers' knees to avoid hearing for the thousandth time that grandpa was at Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series? Or saw Hank Aaron circle the bases after besting the Babe? I don't want my grandchildren to be deprived. I needed my perfect game.
I would have found ways of working the subject into conversations:
"Do you think the president should take a more active role in the Middle East?"
"Why, yes, I was at one of the 17 perfect games in the history of baseball, thanks for asking."
So as of now, I and 33,734 of my Boston neighbors saw an exciting night of relatively meaningless baseball that was almost sports history. It was just another small stitch in the fabric of our national pastime. Nothing really to tell the grandkids about. In the meantime, I'll just keep kicking myself and wondering whether I - I mean Mike - should have thrown Carl a curveball instead.
David S. Hauck is on the Monitor staff.