Wednesday night the Philadelphia Flyers pulled off a 4-3 win in overtime, taking their first game of their series with the Chicago Blackhawks after dropping the first two in Chicago. There are several factors that lead to Philly’s victory…not the least of which was that their second goal was made possible by the league’s ability to utililize video replay to get calls right.
With the score tied 1-1 in the first period, Chris Pronger’s shot on goal deflected off of Scott Harnell’s stick and slithered through Blackhawk’s goalie Antti Niemi. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson swept the puck away and, even though the red light was flashing, play continued for another 1:42. The boys in Toronto then took another look at the play and correctly awarded the goal to Philly… although initially they gave it Pronger before changing it to Hartnell.
The rest, as the old saying goes, is history.
This was a prime example of why the NHL…and NFL for that matter… implemented video replay to help in getting calls right…but not all professional sports have such ability. And if you’ll allow me to divert away from hockey for a moment, I’d like to share with you way having such rules in place are a very, very good thing for sports.
While game-three of the Stanley Cup Finals was playing out, 450 miles west-northwest of Philadelphia another major sporting even was taking place in Detroit’s Comercia Park. The Tigers were hosting the Cleveland Indians in a MBL American League Central Division matchup and a little bit of history was a-brewin’. Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galarraga was in the process of pitching a perfect game…no opposing batters reaching base either by base hit, walk, error or hit batsman. It’s something that has only been accomplished 18 times prior to this season. Oddly enough however, two perfect games were pulled off just last months.
But never has a Detroit Tigers pitcher tossed a perfect game.
There were two outs in the top of the ninth…Detroit leading 3-0…and the assembled crowd was on their feet in anticipation of that last, historic out. Jason Donlald was Cleveland’s last hope. He hit a bouncer to the right side of the infield…first baseman Miguel Cabrera moved to his right to field it…turned and flipped to Galarraga who was covering first…the ball was squeezed in the pitcher’s glove, right foot made contact with the bag…OUT!
Joy…rapture…pandemonium…time to celebrate the first perfect game in Tigers history…
Ummm, wait…not so fast.
First base umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe…and the perfecto was lost.
Now, upon further review of the play, it was clear that the runner was indeed out. However, MLB has no rule which allows for the play to be reviewed and…if deemed necessary…overturned.
The play and the call…not to mention the historical context… were errily similar to the one that still haunts St. Louis Cardinal fans from game-six of the 1985 World Series against the Kansas City Royals…one that allowed the Royals to sneak out of the park with a 2-1 win. KC then came back the next night to pound the Cards 11-0 in game-seven, taking…some in St. Louis would argue, stealing…the championship.
To Joyce’s credit, the 23-year umpiring veteran openly admitted he blew the call after he saw the replay for himself. “It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the #$%@ out of it”, he said afterwards. “I just cost that kid a perfect game”.
“I thought he beat the throw. I was convinced he beat the throw, until I saw the replay”.
Also not to be overlooked here is the way the pitcher who was robbed of his spot in the MBL history book reacted to the play. “I would have been the first person in may face”, Joyce continued. “But he never said a word to me”.
Galarraga retired the very next batter after the controversial play…completing the “28-out perfect game”.
After the game, Joyce asked to speak to Galarraga to offer up his apologies.
“You don’t see an umpire after the game come out and say ‘Hey, let me tell you I’m sorry’”, Galarraga said of the meeting. “He felt really bad”.
Now, moving back to hockey…when I was watching the Blackhawks-Flyers game last night and the reviewed play gave the Flyers the deserved goal, my first thought was about the fans back in Chicago who were coming to the realization that their team was going to be on the wrong end of this deal. It reminded me of a play three years ago that went against the Thrashers in game four of the playoffs.
I apologize in advance for re-opening this old wound…
As you’ll no-doubt recall, the Rangers were up 3 games to none and the Thrashers were clinging to their slim hopes to remain alive in the playoffs. The score was 2-2 in the third period and a shot zipped by Johan Hedberg, deflected off the bottom of the crossbar, landed on the line and then kicked out.
It looked like we had dodged a bullet…but upon further review, the puck hit the ice right on it’s side allowing for just a sliver of white ice to be seen between the red line and the black puck. Clearly, it was a goal and a 3-2 Rangers lead.
I remember cursing that damned video replay rule that night!
But in the end, the correct call was made…as was the case last night in Philadelphia…and that’s what is best for integrity of the game.
Unfortunately for Armando Galarraga and Tigers fans…this is not the case in MLB.