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In Saturday's perfecto, it was a strike because the ump said so

Apr 24, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff Writer

In 137 years of Major League Baseball there have been more than 200,000 games played. And, after Saturday, only 21 times has a pitcher faced all 27 batters in a game and not allowed a single one of them to reach first base.

Send those numbers to your spreadsheet, and you'll have to get out to the fourth decimal place before a one will replace the zeros to the right of the decimal point to learn how rare a perfect game is. The stats say a perfect game is 10 times less likely than a no-hitter, also a rare occurrence.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber, who will make a whopping $530,000 this year after getting a $30,000 raise (that's a lot to you and me, but to Major Leaguers, Humber makes just over minimum wage), accomplished his taste of perfection against the Mariners Saturday in Seattle.

It was captivating to watch. I wonder how his wife is doing. She is nine months preggo.

The umpire figured in the outcome. People will argue forever whether Seattle's Brendan Ryan swung at the last pitch that was low and outside, on a 3-2 count. Ryan was expecting the heater, and couldn't believe Humber came with a full count slider.

The ball got by White Sox catcher catcher A.J. Pierzynski and, instead of sprinting to first base, batter Ryan turned around and argued with home plate umpire Brian Runge. Pierzynski, who said afterward that catching the perfect game was more nerve-wracking than the 2005 World Series he played in, had plenty of time to throw to first base and put an explanation point on baseball history

But put yourself in the umpire Runge's shoes. Don't think for a moment that the gravity of a potential perfect game was lost on him.

There are seven ways the Major League Baseball rule book defines a strike.

The first is that "a strike is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which is struck at by the batter and is missed."

Nowhere in the rule book are the words "struck at" further defined.

Maybe you have heard of the terms asking whether the batter "broke his wrists" or, for the right handed batter whether the bat "crossed the plane" of the first base line. None of that is in the rule book.

So when batter Ryan checked his swing, umpire Runge had to decide whether Ryan "struck at" the ball and call it either a ball or a strike. It is one or the other. He called strike three.

I immediately thought Runge did not want to place history in the hands of his umpire at first base, by calling a ball, and then waiting for Pierzynski to appeal, and then asking his first base partner, "Hey, I'm not really sure on this one, one of the biggest pitches in MLB history. What do you think?"

I've now seen a dozen angles of the pitch, and I've concluded that had the ball been on the inside part of the plate, it is likely that batter Ryan's offer could have hit the ball.

What is clear to me is that Ryan didn't hustle. Had he sprinted to first base, he may have made it and broken up the perfect game, no-hitter still intact.

But as Runge said after the game, "I will say that was a pretty outstanding game [Humber] threw. He had his slider working, obviously, and pounded the zone, kept his pitch count down. Pretty outstanding stuff from him today," indicating he would not be talking about the last pitch. Classy move.

After the perfecto, Fox returned to coverage of the boring Red Sox vs. Yankees game which Boston was up 9-0. Oops, mark that one as what some are calling a "perfect" 15-9 New York comeback at Fenway Park.

And the regular season has just started.

Have a great sports week. Go Big Red!

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