Reliving baseball perfection through five who were there
Baseball reporter Larry Stone had the day off for Philip Humber's perfect game Saturday against the Mariners, so he talked to five people who saw it.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
M's @ Detroit, 4:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
Of the nearly 400,000 Major League Baseball games played since 1876, only 21 have been perfect.
One took place Saturday afternoon in Seattle, when a small slice of MLB history wafted in on an uncommonly warm breeze, settled at Safeco Field, and thoroughly captivated 22,472 fans.
I wasn't one of them. Of course not. In 27 years of covering the big leagues, I've still never seen a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game. Three have taken place on my beat, but I was off for all of them.
It was only fitting, then, that I had the day off Saturday when Philip Humber put down 27 straight Mariners. Our college writer, Bud Withers, who covers a handful of baseball games a year, had the honors, along with columnist Steve Kelley. They did an exemplary job.
Instead, I saw a doubleheader Saturday — my son's Little League games. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play, but a part of me wanted to be at Safeco watching perfection.
I had to absorb the moment vicariously. So I'm reliving the masterpiece from five viewpoints. All five felt the weight of the historic moment, some butterflies and, finally, exhilaration. Here is the perfect day I missed as experienced by a rookie reporter, official scorer, scoreboard operator, visiting clubhouse manager and national broadcaster.
My first stop had to be Josh Liebeskind, who graduated in March from the University of Washington with a journalism degree and landed an internship with MLB.com. Saturday was Liebeskind's seventh day on the job.
Josh was assigned the White Sox game story — just the third "gamer" he has written. He is 21 years old and now has done what I haven't in nearly three decades — covered a no-hitter; indeed, the ultimate no-hitter.
"As the game got to the fourth and fifth, and we had to start planning for a possible perfect game, I got a little nervous," he told me. "I just didn't know what to expect on the coverage side. Once it became real in the seventh and eighth, and I thought, 'This is going to happen,' I put my nerves aside.
"It wasn't like any other game, but I tried to make it like any other game. It was a blast to cover."
Doug Miller, who covered the Mariners for MLB.com, kiddingly told Liebeskind in the third inning, "It looks like you're going to cover a perfect game."
When that prediction came true, "We looked at each other like, Wow! Did that just really happen?"
Afterward, almost giddy, Josh called up his mom in Corvallis, Ore., from the parking garage to tell her what he had just done.
"I came home after the game, still buzzing with adrenaline," he said. "I couldn't believe I saw a perfect game, first of all, let alone the fact I covered it and was there with the players. It's still hard to wrap my head around."
The official scorer
I always have special empathy for the official scorer in a building no-hitter, because the pressure is immense as the final outs approach. The last thing they want is a borderline call that requires them to choose "hit" or "error," with fans, players and media waiting to question the decision.
On Saturday, the official scorer at Safeco was Dan Peterson, which is a story in itself. The Mariners' main scorer, Eric Radovich, was working as public-address announcer that day. Darin Padur, one of Radovich's backups, was originally scheduled to work the game, but had to coach a Little League game. So Peterson — an advertising copy writer by trade — agreed to fill in.
This is Peterson's eighth year scoring games for the Mariners, but he had never come close to something like this. And, yes, he felt the pressure.
"As a scorekeeper, you're OK with a hit; you just want it to be a real clean hit," he said. "A ball off someone's glove or a 50-50 call is your worst nightmare. It was a sunny day, and quite a few balls were hit in the air. In the back of my mind, I thought the most likely possibility was a ball lost in the sun, which by and large go as a hit. Obviously, if that's the first — or only — hit, it's kind of a painful to make that call."
But, lo and behold, there were no difficult calls, right up to Brendan Ryan's game-ending checked swing. That was a tough call for the umpire, but not Peterson.
"It was about as easy as it could possibly be," he said. "Anyone could have called that game. One out of every six or seven games I work is essentially a game I have no real calls. That was one of them.
"After the fact, it was pretty exciting to realize you witnessed something like that — coupled with that incredible sense of relief I wasn't in any way involved."
One footnote: On the 3-2 pitch to Ryan, immediately before he was rung up for the final out, Ryan fouled the ball back — straight into the press box. It bounced around and rolled right to — Dan Peterson, who grabbed it on the second hop, a souvenir of the most memorable game he'll ever score.
The scoreboard operator
The man running the scoreboard at Safeco on Saturday, Dave Compton, was also in charge of the scoreboard at Comerica Park on June 2, 2010. That night, Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga had a perfect game stolen from him on a miscall by first-base umpire Jim Joyce.
The contrast in the two games was marked, said Compton, who recently transferred to Seattle and now works the scoreboard at Mariners, Sounders and Seahawks games as a representative of ANC Sports.
The big difference: Galarraga was pitching for the home team, while Humber was an opponent.
"In the control room Saturday, we were very talkative about it, having fun with the game," Compton said. "With Galarraga, the control room was completely silent. Nobody dared say 'perfect game.' "
In Detroit, Compton recalled, he and three other operators had their finger on the mouse button ready to click to a perfect-game graphic — until Indians Jason Donald was mistakenly called safe with two outs in the ninth.
"I'm surprise no one clicked on that last play," he said. "I almost clicked something that would have looked horrible. Everyone felt completely deflated. When Humber got his 26th out, all that was crossing my mind was, 'Please not again. Please not again. Make this out, please.' "
The clubhouse man
Henry Genzale, the visiting clubhouse manager at Safeco, is one of the last remaining original Mariner employees. But he, too, had never seen a perfect game. For this one, Genzale had the unique perspective of watching it unfold on a television in the White Sox clubhouse. In the final innings, only one player was there with him — John Danks, Sunday's starter, who was charting pitches off the TV.
When Humber got the last out, Genzale said, "Danks dropped his clipboard and made a beeline for the dugout. He fired it down and went flying out."
It took awhile, because they were celebrating on the field, but eventually the delirious White Sox team streamed into the clubhouse. Genzale had gotten a bottle of Champagne and pulled aside manager Robin Ventura to ask if he wanted to toast Humber. Naturally, he did.
"So I got about 25 cups for the fellows, put a little in, and they had a toast for Humber when he came in," Genzale said. "And he toasted the whole team. It was a nice, quiet moment of celebration."
On Seattle radio, of course, it was Rick Rizzs and Ken Wilson doing the play-by-play. But for the rest of the nation, Dave Sims was the voice of Humber's perfect game as the lead broadcaster on FOX.
"I was excited and a little bit nervous," Sims said. "I gave myself a pretty good talking to: 'Go back to basics, and report. It's not about you. Capture the color and texture of everything going on.' "
Sims feels good about his call of the last out, which every broadcaster knows has a chance to live on in history.
"Here's the thing — don't over-think it," he said. "Put a little flourish on it, and get out of the way."
I think I would have handled it the same way. If only I had been there.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.