As I was getting ready to drive into work last night, I got the text alert that Dallas Braden was perfect through six innings. As I waited in traffic heading into the Lincoln Tunnel, it occurred to me that I had yet to receive an update saying that the perfect game bid was over. So I fired up At Bat on my phone and listened to the Oakland radio feed just as the ninth inning was beginning.
Braden breezed through it in 12 pitches but it seemed like about four. Listening to the picture painted on the radio was a treat. Ken Korach’s play-by-play was descriptive and unobtrusive. I’ve watched the no-hitters thrown by Jon Lester, Carlos Zambrano and Ubaldo Jimenez in recent years, but in each case, the TV announcers were a little too loud, too over the top. If anything, the radio broadcasters should raise the excitement a notch while the TV commentators should let the images speak for themselves. Twice I held my breath, wondering if the balls hit would find the outfield grass. There was Dioner Navarro‘s line drive to left fielder Eric Patterson on which there was a moment I wondered if it would fall in, and then Gabe Kapler‘s ground ball to shortstop Cliff Pennington, who fielded it cleanly and threw to first for the final out. If anything, I could’ve used a touch more excitement from Korach to know that it was a routine grounder to Pennington, but I can’t really criticize his even call which, those who listen to A’s games on the radio may know from experience, was an indication that it was all routine.
And then there are the Rays, who were perfected by Mark Buehrle just 10 months ago. Seven of Sunday’s starters also played in that game in Chicago, including reserve Gabe Kapler, who nearly broke up Buehrle’s with his drive to center in the ninth that Dewayne Wise made an amazing play to grab, and who made the final out yesterday. Only the Dodgers, who were on the wrong end of history for Tom Browning in 1988 and Dennis Martinez in 1991, have been the victims of two consecutive perfect games. Los Angeles had just one player in both games — shortstop Alfredo Griffin. The Rays had seven. What baffles me about Tampa Bay, usually known as a strong and patient offensive club, is that those three batters in the ninth — Willy Aybar, Navarro and Kapler — weren’t standing at the plate taking pitches until strike two. Especially Kapler, who made the final out on a 3-1 pitch. Braden came into the game averaging 1.70 walks per nine innings — why not make him work in the final inning? He hadn’t pitched out of the stretch all afternoon, so even a walk might be enough to throw him off his game and result in a fat pitch easily drilled for a base hit.
But I’m not complaining. It was a lot of fun listening to the ninth and a great story for a kid from a tough background, one who lost his mother to cancer in high school and had his grandmother in the stands on Mother’s Day. A great day for baseball.