It was about the time Chicago White Sox center fielder DeWayne Wise rolled around on the warning track after his “He didn’t just do that, did he?” catch in the ninth inning Thursday that I was finally convinced we were watching baseball history.
Thanks to Wise’s home run-robbing grab, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle had retired every Tampa Bay Rays batter he faced — 25 up, 25 down.
Two more outs for a perfect game.
That just shows you the nutty nature of baseball. In his last start before the All-Star game, Buehrle couldn’t get through the fourth inning. Now the left-hander was two outs away from doing something most of the game’s greatest pitchers never did — 27 up, 27 down.
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Before Thursday, only 17 pitchers in major league history had thrown a perfect game.
Now, I did write on Opening Day that I hoped to see a perfect game this season. What I meant was I hoped to see one in person.
But given the rarity of the event that was unfolding, why be concerned with location?
It was evident as the game wore on that Buehrle was almost untouchable. But a perfect game? Come on.
I figured backup catcher Michel Hernandez would push a ground ball through the infield or All-Star left fielder Carl Crawford would drop a single into left field or All-Star second baseman Ben Zobrist would steal the spotlight with another home run.
The Rays have the third-best offense in the American League. Someone was going to get a hit, right? Or break up the perfect game by drawing a walk or reaching on an error, right? Isn’t that what usually happens?
Besides, Rays TV announcer Dewayne Staats was doing his best to put the jinx on Buehrle. It’s supposed to be taboo for a TV or radio announcer to mention a pitcher is working on a no-hitter or perfect game, but Staats wasn’t shy about using the words “perfect game” as Buehrle retired the Rays in order inning after inning. In fact, the Rays broadcast even showed the final out of Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter.
It wasn’t until after the game that I learned the White Sox announcers eschewed that unwritten rule as well.
“Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going to the ninth,” Sox announcer Ken Harrelson yelled after Buehrle set the Rays down 1-2-3 in the eighth.
Here is what Arthur Daley of the New York Times wrote on this very subject in 1959: “Only a scoundrel would commit so dastardly a deed, because such mention instantly brings the whammy out of hiding. The whammy is a spook with the horns of a jinx that would thereupon direct the flight of the next batted ball and destroy the no-hitter.”
That quote is found in section 1.17.0 of “The Unwritten Rules of Baseball” as written by Paul Dickson.
Now, broadcasters have to report the news, so let’s not be too hard on Staats.
But it sure did look like he brought out the whammy when Rays right fielder Gabe Kapler drove the sixth pitch of the ninth inning toward the first row of center-field seats at U.S. Cellular Field. In fact, Staats used the term “no-hitter” as the pitch headed toward home plate.
But Wise saved the day for Buehrle when he jumped above the 8-foot wall, caught the ball with his glove and held on to it with his bare hand as he landed on his back.
At that point, well, you just had to root for history.
The Rays were down 5-0. They hadn’t had a hit all day. It wasn’t like they were going to explode for a five-run rally now.
Up to the plate stepped Hernandez, who went down swinging.
Up next was All-Star shortstop Jason Bartlett, the Rays’ leading hitter. He grounded out to shortstop.
Buehrle had his perfect game. He was mobbed by his teammates. He hugged his wife and baby daughter. He took a phone call from the president.
He arrived at the ballpark in the morning to pitch in a baseball game and ended up making baseball history.
There was a whammy in Chicago on Thursday. It belonged to Mark Buehrle.