Jeff Locke took a no-hitter into the seventh inning last season.
Twice. In consecutive starts. Against the same team.
“The Salem Red Sox,” he said while sitting inside the Bradenton Marauders’ clubhouse Thursday night.
Locke, however, considers himself lucky — his bids at history were broken up by clean hits.
No close calls. No quandaries for the official scorer. And nothing like what Armando Galarraga had to endure Wednesday night at Comerica Park.
“I feel his pain. Absolutely,” Locke said.
Locke and the rest of the Bradenton Marauders were involved in their own game Wednesday night with the Lakeland Flying Tigers when Lakeland’s parent club, the Detroit Tigers, nearly witnessed the first perfect game in their history. It nearly came courtesy of Galarraga, a 28-year-old who, up until Wednesday, had never thrown a complete game.
You know the rest of the story — after recording 26 straight outs, Galarraga had a monumental moment snatched away from him when first-base umpire Jim Joyce botched the biggest call of the night, claiming that Cleveland’s Jason Donald had legged out an infield hit when replays showed he was out by about two feet.
Over a thousand miles away in Bradenton, Locke, a promising lefty on his way to the Florida State League All-Star game next weekend, winced.
He’s a pitcher. He knows how hard it is to try and smother a team for 8 2/3 innings. And he can only imagine how bad it must feel to lose it the way Galarraga did.
“It’s wacky how you can do that — 27 up, 27 down,” Locke said. “Especially because the major-league strike zone is like a postage stamp. It’s tough to throw strikes over that plate and not have professional baseball players hit them.”
So to come that far ... that close ... to watch Tigers’ centerfielder Austin Jackson make a running, over the shoulder catch a few feet from the wall to start the ninth ... to nearly make three pristine trips through a big-league lineup ... only to watch it slip away.
Not because of a ringing double down the line or a 3-1 curveball that bounced five feet in front of home plate — but because a well-respected umpire picked the wrong time to make a bad call.
“It’s sad, it’s shocking,” Locke said. “Honestly, as a pitcher, you’re speechless.”
The out that wasn’t has been played nonstop everywhere from ESPN to the MLB Network and has garnered thousands of views on YouTube.
The part that eats away at Locke? The look on Galarraga’s face just before Joyce’s call.
He’s about to celebrate, about to join his teammates for a mid-mound dog pile.
And then ...
“It’s like one of those fake scratch tickets, where you win 500,000 grand,” Locke said, “and on the back it says, ‘You’re a loser.’”
Both Galarraga and Joyce have received kudos for how they handled it — Galarraga for not exploding, Joyce for publicly admitting his mistake — but what happened Wednesday was galling even for the casual fan who never dreamed of ascending to such heights.
For fellow pitchers, however, who want to do what Galarraga almost did every time they take the ball, it hits a little closer to the bone.
Just ask the promising lefty in Bradenton, wincing from over 1,000 miles way.
“I really feel bad for him,” Locke said.