SEATTLE -- For planning purposes, teams really should put perfect games on their pocket schedules. Like, "April 21: Mariners Military Coin Giveaway/Philip Humber Perfect Game Day."
I was in Seattle’s Pike Place Market on Saturday afternoon when an editor called and asked, "Are you watching this?"
Uh, oh. That was not a question I wanted to hear because I clearly was not aware of the "this" to which he was referring, though I assumed it involved the Mariners. Choosing whether to attend Seattle’s game against the White Sox on Saturday or Sunday, I had chosen Sunday. Bad call. "Phil Humber has a perfect game through eight," my editor said, asking whether I could get to the stadium for a story.
Well, I was only 1½ miles from the stadium but I was completely unprepared. I had no credential. I had no computer. I had no notebook and no pen. Much worse, I was 40 miles into a 60-mile bike ride and had no clothes beyond the sweaty black bike shorts, purple Husky bike jersey and bike shoes I was wearing.
But a perfect game is a perfect game, so I hopped on my bike and raced to the ballpark, hoping to catch the last inning. Being on a bike was actually a good thing because it allowed me to ride in the bike lanes past slow downtown traffic and through alleyways and side streets otherwise off-limits. Plus, with postgame traffic diversions outside the stadium already in effect, a car would have taken much longer.
Even so, as I rode the final blocks to the stadium, I found I had to fight my way through crowds of fans outside the park. Now, the majority of them were on their way to a motocross event at the football stadium. But enough were wearing Mariners shirts and jerseys that some had to have been coming from the baseball game, meaning they left with a perfect game intact. I was stunned. You can have a good debate about when it is acceptable to leave a game but I think we can all agree that you definitely cannot leave a perfect game in the eighth or ninth inning, no matter how much the babysitter charges.
I was so upset I even yelled at one. What are you doing!?!
The vast majority of fans had remained at the game, of course, and many cheered loudly for Humber, much to the annoyance of a friend who was appalled that anyone would root for an opposing pitcher to throw a perfect game against the local team. Which brings up another interesting debate topic: When is it allowable to root for the opponent?
Not often, but I definitely feel it was all right Saturday. The Mariners haven’t been to the postseason in 11 years and it’s very unlikely they will get there this year, either. The Mariners may be in the same division as the Rangers and Angels but fans realize they aren’t in the same league of talent. They also are tired of watching losing, last-place teams whose lineups have been near historic lows for offense (Seattle has scored fewer runs each of the past two seasons than the Mariners did in 1994 when the strike canceled the final 50 games of the season). Plus, the Mariners were already trailing 3-0 in the eighth. Given the choice between a perfect game and just another loss, fans understandably chose to root for history.
I arrived at the stadium just as radio announcer Rick Rizzs was describing the final pitch that bounced away from catcher A.J. Pierzynski but which umpire Brian Runge ruled that Brendan Ryan had swung at (he didn’t, but Runge was definitely not going to be Jim Joyce in such a situation). With only a trickle of fans coming out, I was able to pick up my bike and dash through a gate to the main concourse. Fans were still watching Humber and the White Sox celebrate -- and Ryan argue with Runge -- so I also was able to make my way to the press box surprisingly fast, even wheeling my bike.
The Mariners' media relations staff cleared my admittance without a credential but that brought up the awkward moment. I had to go into the clubhouses and interview players while wearing only my bike shorts and jersey. There is a new dress code for baseball writers this year and I broke every clause in it while dashing from the interview room to the Mariners clubhouse to the White Sox clubhouse. But what was I going to do? We needed the story.
Surprisingly, not many people said anything. A few laughed or smiled but most appeared not to notice or care. Apparently, they are all too used to sportswriters looking like crap. Except, of course, for A.J., who yelled, "Now THAT’S a good look!'"
I’ve covered baseball 25 years and still have not seen a no-hitter. The closest I’ve come was Scott Erickson’s no-hitter in 1994 and Eric Milton’s in 1999. I was home each time when I received a call to alert me in the seventh inning. I dashed to the Metrodome in time for the final inning of each game.
It feels odd to write about a game you weren’t at, but you do what you have to in this business. I mean, it’s not like Woodward and Bernstein were at the actual Watergate break-in, either.
I rode to the game Sunday as planned, hoping for a repeat of the Ray Washburn/Gaylord Perry consecutive no-hitters in 1968. But for the sake of the players and staff, this time I brought a set of clothes to change into.