Kapler: 'Being on the losing end of perfect games sucks'
JAN 16, 2014 11:30p ET
Being on the losing end of perfect games sucks. I tried not to make a habit of it during my career, but I couldn’t help myself.
Once the fourth inning rolls around and the ballpark begins to buzz with whispers of a no-no percolating, the players are acutely aware of the situation. I’m the opposite of superstitious, challenging the illogical notion whenever possible, but during these particular contests, I’d show a degree of respect for my co-workers’ adulation of the shenanigans.
I would distance myself from our pitcher in the dugout so as to not upset his baseball gods. The other players would do the same. The tradition is to not mention the situation out loud, as if this act could somehow impact the outcome of the game.
Say to a teammate, “Hey, did you notice Price has a no-no going?” and be met with a chorus of “Jinx! What are you doing? You’re ruining his chances!”
I only respected and participated in the dance with the pitcher. With the other 23 guys, I took a different tact, tempting fate and trying to prove my theory. I’d bring it up with the first baseman, or whoever, just for the entertainment value.
That’s not to say I didn’t get caught up in the moment. I vividly recall the physical sensation and emotion of playing defense behind my teammates - pitchers dominating opposing lineups, throwing up zero after zero as the innings progressed.
Your heart beats more rapidly as every play becomes more significant. Dropping into your pre-pitch stance, you concentrate slightly harder, knowing in the back of your mind you could be part of history, and the world is watching. There is absolutely an element of “don’t blow it for this guy” running through the minds of the fielders. I would begin to fantasize about diving into the gap, making the play that would go down in history as instrumental in securing immortality for the starter of that day’s game.
I never experienced the joy of being on the good guy’s side of the perfect game or no-hitter. Karma.
As I peered across the Oakland County Coliseum field into the A’s dugout on Mother’s Day of 2010, I witnessed Coco Crisp, Mark Ellis and the rest of their players applying the same, superstitious techniques with Dallas Braden, (who coincidentally announced his retirement earlier this week). He sat very alone. The deeper into the game we went, the more isolated he became.
I imagined what it was like to be him, so locked into his moment, quinquenniums of devotion to training, both on and off the field, finally coming together in blaze of glory.
I was feeling pretty good with the pink bat (used on Mother’s Day for breast cancer awareness) in my hand, stepping to the plate in the two-out, top-of-the-ninth situation. Having faced Braden the previous few plate appearances and sporadically over the previous years, I knew what his stuff looked like; I knew how he would try to get me out.
I would see a steady diet of fastballs in off the plate and changeups away. I desperately wanted to ruin his opportunity to celebrate while we, the Rays, walked away in shame.
I ran the count to 3-1 and reminded myself that I had seen 12 pitches in my sixth-inning plate appearance.
“He’s going to throw me a strike, “I told myself. “He hasn’t walked a batter all day, he’s not going to start now.”
His offering arrived on a platter in the form of a cookie fastball away with an ounce of tail and I beat it into the ground to shortstop. Disgusted with myself for not allowing the ball to travel a split second longer and giving myself a chance to drive the ball to right-center field, I sprinted hopelessly to first base and the A’s stormed the field to celebrate the 19th perfect game in MLB history. (Box score: A's 4, Rays 0)
This feeling was too familiar.
The season prior, with one out in the top of the ninth against Chicago White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, I sat on a changeup and lined a drive into left-center field. I knew it would be a sure double when it left my bat, if not a wall scraper home run.
Dwayne Wise had been inserted into center field that inning as a defensive replacement, and he had different ideas. Wise dashed into the gap leaping against the wall, glove extended above to rob me of a homer.
Breaking up Buehrle’s perfect game, no hitter and shutout all with one swing would have remained a stunningly beautiful dream. But instead, one batter later, the White Sox mobbed him on the mound. (Box score: White Sox 5, Rays 0)
I did have my moment in the sun a year earlier.
In 2008, with the Milwaukee Brewers, I broke up Chris Young’s perfect game bid with a blast to left field with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning. Then rookie Nick Hundley was catching that game for San Diego and called for a slider. Young shook him off and opted to try to throw a fastball by me. That didn’t turn out well for the Padres right-hander.
“I came after him with the heater and he hit it out”
“I learned my lesson,” Young said. “He called a slider and I wanted to challenge him with a heater. I didn’t want to fall behind him any farther than that (in the count) so I came after him with the heater and he hit it out.” (Box score: Padres 10, Brewers 1)
The perfect game, the no hitter, is the culmination of events lining up for 2½ hours or thereabouts for the pitchers. These events are highly dependent on factors outside the pitchers control.
Well-struck baseballs must land safely in the gloves of fielders; borderline calls must go the way of the artist on the mound. Pitch selection must be on point. Defensive genius must occur. And everyone must adhere to the time tested baseball tradition of superstition.