Friday, April 11, 2008

Baseball Perfection

27 up. 27 down.



How close we came to seeing just that tonight. Baseball perfection. A pitching line with zeroes everywhere but Innings Pitched and K's. A baseball ideal so elusive that many of the finest pitchers in the history of the game have never done it. Most have sniffed it, but few have stood on the mound and watched the last out secured in a glove, knowing that they have accomplished the single most difficult task in any sporting event.

Chien-Ming Wang almost did. And he almost did it against the Boston Red Sox.

Everything you saw at the plate on TV tonight - the speed, movement and location of every pitch; the timing, plane, angle, and mechanics of every Boston hitter's swing - met the unknowable and ever-changing prerequisite for baseball perfection...tonight.

To most this isn't something that can be readily clear. In any brush with baseball perfection, there are close calls. Whether it's a running catch in the gap by Paul O'Neill, a rangy play by Chuck Knoblauch that is capped off by a (surprisingly) accurate throw, or Ricky Ledee finding a fly ball a few feet in front of his face and making a reactive basket catch, there are always close calls. Whether it's a blown call by a base umpire awarding an out where the runner ties, there's just that little bit of luck that makes the difference between perfection and imperfection, however otherwise good it may be.

As Chien-Ming Wang's 9th inning sinker dove away from the sweet spot of Julio Lugo's bat, forcing a groundball to shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, realize that in another time, another place, baseball perfection comes to a head here. The anticipatory roar of the crowd as it glimpses across a field into the rarest of treasures. As Gonzalez fields the ball and throws across the diamond. As Jason Giambi stretches across the bag and hauls in the throw with the backhand of his glove, and like a wave cascading down, Wang's teammates descend upon the mound filled with the joy of something even they are awed to see.

The way it could have been.

And that is because perfection is not perfection in a pitching sense. Perfect pitches sometimes get hit, and bad pitches sometimes go unpunished. Yankee outfielders made several plays with their backs to the wall. There were several line drives hit to the outfielders as well, balls that could have sunk and fell for hits, but stayed up. And this is all part of the luck that makes baseball perfection so unattainable for even the finest pitchers. But tonight, you witnessed baseball perfection. It didn't happen, but it was here. It was in the building. Alex Rodriguez dives for Dustin Pedroia's one hopper, comes to his feet quickly, and fires an accurate throw to first to nail the runner in time. Bobby Abreu leaps at the wall and spears the JD Drew flyball, bringing it down safely within the confines of the outfield wall. And Coco Crisp never comes to bat. Never thinks of bunting. Because he is stranded on deck as Lugo is thrown out by a stride.

Baseball perfection. Wang was this close. You were this close.

And it would have ended with a routine groundout to the shortstop.

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