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Armando Galarraga’s perfect game, 10 years later

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One mistake shaped a major part of Detroit Tigers history

Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Officially, MLB records say there have been 23 perfect games.

Unofficially, and according to most Detroit Tigers fans, that number should be 24.

On June 2, 2010 Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game. While the record might not show it as one, since umpire Jim Joyce ruled Jason Donald safe at first, even Joyce admitted his mistake the following day, upon seeing the replay. Afterwards, when asked whether it was added pressure from the situation that made him overthink the call, Joyce would only admit, “It really comes down to I missed the call. It’s pretty simple.” He wouldn’t offer any excuses to counter his mistake.

The next day he tearfully apologized to Galarraga for the error.

Ultimately Jason Donald’s run (and his later advance to third) didn’t matter, as Galarraga finished the game on the 28th batter, and now, ten years later, the event is still fresh in the memory of Tigers fans, and even Galarraga himself.

When asked recently, with the anniversary looming, if he would like to have his accomplishment recognized, he said, “If they give it to me, of course, I’d be happy, of course. It would definitely be wonderful, would be beautiful, but I’m happy what the story brings. This is the story. This is why — in baseball, at that point, we didn’t have any replays — and I’m happy that I kind of helped to have replay in baseball.”

His one caveat? “If they’re going to give me the perfect game, why not? But they better give it to me while I’m alive.”

Had the game been scored properly, and ruled a perfect game, it would have made MLB history. It would have come mere days after Roy Halladay pitched his May 29th perfect game against the Florida Marlins, and would have been the third perfect game in less than a month, with Dallas Braden having thrown one against the Rays on May 9th. It would have been the first season in MLB history with three perfect games (2012 now has that historic record).

One bad call changed history, not just for Galarraga — who left the Tigers after that season and was never a dominant starter again — or for Joyce — who became synonymous with his own mistake — but for baseball as a whole.

In hindsight, especially with the newer introduction of in-game reviews, there is no question that Galarraga’s game would be called perfect if it happened today. Joyce himself was able to admit the gaffe on reviewing video, and were it to happen now, the call would have been overturned and Galarraga awarded what he had earned. In terms of what would change if he were given the perfect game status now: very little. Jason Donald did not go on to have a Hall of Fame career, and one less base hit would certainly not damage his legacy.

What is called into question is what it might mean for other historic blown calls. The oft-cited example being Don Denkinger’s blown safe call at first in the 1985 World Series, a mistake that would allow the Kansas City Royals to ultimately win Game 6 and go on to win the entire series in Game 7.

There’s one major problem with comparing the two blown calls though: Joyce’s didn’t change the outcome of the game.

The Tigers still won a shutout game on June 2, 2010. Joyce’s mistake only resulted in one extra batter coming to the plate, who was almost immediately dispatched back to the dugout, ending the game. Where Denkinger’s mistake might have changed the entire outcome of the 1985 World Series — and certainly there must be St. Louis fans out there who will still tell you it did — if MLB were to give Galarraga his perfect game, it would only require the alteration of one player’s career numbers by a single base hit.

Is it a slippery slope to change the past? Potentially. But on this, the tenth anniversary of the would-be perfect game (the only perfect game in Detroit Tigers history), circumstances should be considered.

It’s time to give Galarraga his due.

If you’re so inclined to relieve the pain of that one hit, here’s a recap of the whole game.