There has never been a better play to save a perfect game than the fence-rattling, home run-robbing, ball-juggling, barehanded catch made by Wise in the ninth inning Thursday to preserve Buehrle's perfecto, the 18th in major league history.
It's not even close. Rusty Greer was a rookie center fielder with the Texas Rangers when he made a diving catch of Rex Hudler's sinking liner leading off the ninth inning of Kenny Rogers'(notes) perfect game against the Angels on July 28, 1994. "Never thought he was going to get there,'' Rogers said of Greer's catch, which had been considered the best glovework ever in a perfect game.
But that paled, according to Rangers' publicist John Blake, to the catch made by Wise, who had just been inserted into the game as a defensive replacement when Gabe Kapler(notes) of the Tampa Bay Rays led off the ninth with a drive to left-center field.
"Wise's catch was much better,'' said Blake, who witnessed Greer's play and watched Wise's catch on TV. "Rusty made a nice catch – he got a good jump – but Wise robbed [Kapler] of a home run. The way he jumped up, caught it, and bobbled it, that's got to be as dramatic a game-saving catch as any made in any no-hitter, never mind a perfect game.''
Jim Fregosi played 18 seasons in the big leagues as an infielder with the Angels, Mets, Rangers and Pirates. He either played or was on the bench for five no-hitters, three thrown by teammates (Clyde Wright, Steve Busby and Jim Colborn) and two thrown against his team (Earl Wilson and Bill Stoneman).
Fregosi, now a special assignment scout for the Atlanta Braves, was in the stands Thursday at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field. No, he said, he can't imagine a better play has ever been made in a perfect game.
"You know why?'' he said, laughing. "Because he caught it twice.''
Hall of Famer Cy Young threw the first perfect game of the 20th century, on May 5, 1904, back before anyone even thought to call it such, and Young recalled that Boston right fielder Buck Freeman had to "tear in from right field like a deer" to catch a short pop fly behind second base. But that came early in the game.
Cleveland's Addie Joss threw a perfect game Oct. 2, 1908, and almost lost it on the game's last play. Third baseman Bill Bradley, dealing with his only chance of the game, played a hot smash off his chest, scrambled to retrieve the ball and threw low to first, where George Stovall boxed the throw but picked it up just in time to nip the runner.
The most famous perfect game came in the 1956 World Series, but the best defensive play made behind Don Larsen of the Yankees was a byproduct of luck. Jackie Robinson's hard smash off third baseman Andy Carey caromed directly to shortstop Gil McDougald, who had time to throw out the Dodgers' Hall of Famer. And that was in the second inning, long before anyone contemplated perfection.
The only perfect game by a White Sox pitcher before Buehrle was thrown by Charlie Robertson, an improbable candidate for baseball immortality. Robertson was making just his third major league start, on April 30, 1922 against the Detroit Tigers, after a handful of appearances as a reliever. Robertson didn't need any great defense behind him to throw his perfecto, but he could have used a lawyer. Throughout the game, Tigers outfielder Ty Cobb demanded that umpires check the ball, his glove and finally his uniform for evidence that Robertson was throwing a spitball, which had been recently outlawed.
Even after the game ended, Cobb gave Robertson no peace, demanding that American League president Ban Johnson investigate. Nothing came of it, and the same could be said of Robertson, who finished his career with a 49-80 record, the worst of any perfect-game pitcher.
Just a couple of weeks ago, a former White Sox center fielder, Aaron Rowand(notes), made a leaping catch at the fence to preserve a no-hitter by Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez(notes). A terrific play in its own right, but not in Wise's league.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had just sent Wise into the game to play center, with Scott Podsednik(notes) moving to left, when Kapler drove a ball to the left-center gap. Wise, playing straightaway, sprinted to the eight-foot fence, at a spot where the photo of another great White Sox lefty, Billy Pierce, is displayed. Wise leaped above the railing with his gloved right hand. The impact jarred the ball loose as Wise headed earthward, and there were gasps in the bleachers at the sight of white falling from leather. But Wise reached out with his bare left hand to grab the ball before he went into a roll upon landing.
"It was kind of crazy, man,'' Wise told reporters, "because when I jumped, the ball hit my glove at the same time I was hitting the wall. So I didn’t realize I had caught it until I fell down and the ball was coming out of my glove, so I reached out and grabbed it."
Memo to Chapin, S.C. (pop. 628): When it comes time to vote on the next class of inductees to your Hall of Fame, we think Wise is eminently qualified to join the Rev. Earl Loadholdt and Dolly Dent Montgomery.
Maybe that wasn't the case before this year, Wise having assembled modest credentials (.214 career average) as a part-time player for the Blue Jays, Reds, Braves and White Sox after being drafted on the fifth round by Cincinnati in 1997. But Wise helped the White Sox win the division last season playing for the injured Carlos Quentin(notes) down the stretch, then was chosen by Guillen to open this season as starting center fielder and leadoff hitter.
Finally, his big break. But in the seventh game of the season, Wise separated his right shoulder making a game-saving catch against the Detroit Tigers and missed more than six weeks. He struggled when he came back, batting .196, and his status as an everyday player was gone, perhaps for good.
But on Thursday, he made the kind of play that assures his name will long be remembered, and was embraced by Buehrle. Tampa Bay's Pat Burrell(notes) suggested to the Chicago Sun-Times that other rewards may be in the offing.
"He might wake up tomorrow,'' Burrell said, "with a new car in his driveway.''
- perfect game
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