Braden comes to earth vs. Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- And for an encore, if there can be an encore five days later, Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden was only very good Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the Angels, not perfect.

He became the first pitcher since Len Barker in 1981 to throw a complete game following a perfect game, giving up seven hits and four runs in an eight-inning complete game loss.

But whatever perfection he could bottle from his pristine perfect game last Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays only lasted another two batters.

A slicing double to left off the bat of Angels right fielder Bobby Abreu in the top of the first ended any thoughts of a repeat date with history. And yes, Braden had considered the prospect of being perfect again.

"Yeah, I do kind of use that preparation method of be perfect, be perfect," Braden said after the game. "Then he [Abreu] got that first hit and I go, 'Well, that's out of the way, just keep filling up the zone.'"

That's exactly what he did. After Abreu's double, Braden retired the next 12 batters that came to the plate.

Angels lefty Joe Saunders matched him pitch for pitch, facing just one batter over the minimum through the first four innings of play.

But in the sixth inning, the Angels reminded everyone just how difficult it is to even contemplate a perfect game, let alone throw one. Leadoff man Erick Aybar laid down a perfect push bunt that rolled between Braden and first baseman Daric Barton. Howie Kendrick sacrificed him to second and Abreu walked to set the stage for the middle of the Angels lineup.

After Torii Hunter struck out swinging in a marathon at-bat, Kendry Morales laced a sharp single to left to score the first run of the game. Braden's streak of 16 scoreless innings was over. He was mad at himself, but still focused. No way he was going to compromise his approach or take his anger out with a fastball as hard as he could throw one to the slumping Hideki Matsui.

Matsui had been slumping so badly in May, batting just .111 this month coming into Friday's game, the crowd gave him a raucous applause when he dropped a flair in front of left fielder Jake Fox in the bottom of the fifth.

This time he needed no sympathy. The ball broke, but it was up, and Matsui drove it into the stands for a three-run homer.

It was all Saunders would need. He pitched a perfect seventh, gave up one hit in the eighth and a walk in the ninth before striking out Fox to end the game and complete a four-hit shutout.

Saunders was so good teammate Jered Weaver smashed a pie tin full of whip cream on his face as he did a postgame television interview, and still, he was nowhere close to perfect.

"It's tough man," Saunders said of the challenge of throwing a perfect game. "Hopefully I have the opportunity to try and go for one someday, but with all the things you're fighting against, it's really tough.

"Without walking a guy, without giving up just a jam-job hit, that's a tough job."

A tough job that looks tougher in hindsight.

A memory that becomes more surreal each day, and each time the story is retold.

Braden had spent the last five days basking in the glow of his feat. He read the Top Ten List on The Late Show with David Letterman, appeared on the CBS Early Show and countless national radio programs.

His grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, who had raised him after his mother died from cancer while he was in high school, was by his side the whole way. Basking, reflecting and simply trying to soak in each moment deep enough never to forget how it felt.

"Having my grandma with me and waking up being able to look at her smiling face every day, knowing that she hadn't gotten over it yet," Braden said, when asked what the best part of the last five days have been.

"She's on Cloud 10, I'm stuck on 9."

Everyone who was at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday had their own way of processing the magic Braden had conjured up that sunny afternoon in front of only 12,228 fans. Reflecting on, and in some cases, re-writing the first drafts of that historic day.

Third baseman Eric Chavez said he'd felt something different going on early in the day.

"It was one of those weird days," Chavez said. "I remember looking at [pitcher [Craig] Breslow in about the third inning and I was like, 'I don't understand, today is a really weird day. I can't get into the flow of the game.' The crowd was like a very subdued crowd, it was just one of those weird days.

"Then, in one of my at-bats, the umpire threw a ball to the pitcher, and the pitcher threw it back at the same time and they collided.

"I looked at the catcher and we were both like, 'What is going on?' It was one of those weird days. Not that I was predicting a perfect game would happen, but it was one of those very weird flowing days."

Weird, and yet perfect.

A day like only 19 other days in Major League Baseball history, now just a memory.

Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and reporter for ESPNLosAngeles.com.