Roy Halladay’s perfect game on Saturday was a study in execution. Pitching dominance is one thing, but the performance also served to illustrate any number of lessons having to do with no-hitter decorum.
Don’t talk to the pitcher
The Code says to never address a pitcher as he’s throwing a no-hitter. Because Halladay generally doesn’t talk to teammates through the course of any of his starts, this wasn’t difficult to pull off. When asked the point at which his teammates started avoiding him, he said, “2:30, 3 o’clock this afternoon.”
Routines are important in baseball. According to superstition, should somebody change something—anything—they could well find themselves serving up an unintentional jinx.
According to tradition, various members of the Phillies kept up with whatever they’d been doing:
- General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. had planned to spend only two innings watching the game from the stands, but as Halladay piled up out after out, he opted not to move.
- In the bullpen, relievers went through their usual routines for preparing to enter the game, even though it was clear that none of them would be needed.
- Philadelphia’s reserve players didn’t move from their spots on the bench after the sixth inning; pitching coach Rich Dubee didn’t uncross his legs for the final three frames.
- In the broadcast booth, TV play-by-play man Tom McCarthy refrained from getting up for his usual seventh-inning break. (Although he did discuss the perfect game on the air. So much for that jinx.)
The Phillies’ bench wasn’t the only location in the ballpark for perfect- game decorum. In its review of the game, Baseball Daily Digest reported that Marlins outfielder Chris Coghlan—already upset by several outside pitches that had been called strikes by umpire Mike Dimuro, including a first-inning third-strike call that would have been ball four—snapped, “That was off the plate!” after a similar third-strike call in the seventh inning.
Still, when asked about the pitches after the game, Coghlan demurred.
“I don’t want to talk about the strike zone, because that’s a discredit to what (Halladay) did,” he said in the MLB.com report. “He was moving the ball all over, to both sides of the plate. Even when he got to 2-2, 3-2, he was able to locate offspeed pitches. He threw a great game.”
While teammates are expected to refrain from jinxing greatness, the same criteria needn’t apply to the opposition. Gary Matthews reported that the Sun Life Stadium grounds crew, stationed near the dugout, spoke about the no-hitter with considerable volume, going so far as to ask Matthews if he was aware of it.
Meanwhile, reports Baseball Daily Digest, the Marlins’ TV crew did its part to jinx the effort on the air. (To be fair, they could be seen as simply doing their jobs as announcers. Read BDD’s account and judge for yourself.)
This was the inning the Marlins’ TV announcers, Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton, began to try to jinx the perfect game, saying that Halladay had been perfect thus far and that he’s never thrown a no-hitter.
The Marlins TV announcers’ jinx was in full effect. They began to show highlights of Dallas Braden’s perfect game. It became clear to me that when you TRY to jinx something, it really doesn’t work.
Now the TV announcers are doing whatever they can do, bringing up the fact that Halladay has never thrown a no-hitter and that in his second ever start, he had a no-hitter going with two outs in the ninth when Bobby Higginson hit a solo homerun.
It can be argued that Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez fit into this category by sending three straight pinch-hitters to the plate in the ninth, in an effort to get to Halladay. Should the score have been 4-0, this could have been seen as a clear sign of disrespect for the moment. Because it was a 1-0 game, however, Gonzalez had wide-reaching Code immunity to do whatever he felt gave his team the best chance to get back into the game.
Update: McCarthy on TV, and Philadelphia’s radio play-by-play man, Scott Franzke, discussed the stresses of calling a perfect game with The Sporting News.
McCarthy: As for the superstitions, I don’t get caught up in them because I think it would be a disservice to the listeners or the viewers. I didn’t want to pound the fact that it was a perfect game, but I always feel like it is important to tell the story. You have to. I think I said no-hitter a few times and perfect game twice, but I didn’t say it over and over again. I have always felt that way. I thought the video [the telecast showed video of Jim Bunning’s perfect game for the Phillies] was important to put the outing into perspective and I was excited that we had it handy. With all of that said, I did stay in the booth the whole time and not move.
Franzke: I don’t think I shied away from saying the actual words. It’s funny that I mention it a number of times that he’s been perfect. I can’t tell you when I might have said the words perfect game together. I sit next to, obviously, an ex-player and he has a lot of things ingrained in his mind – in terms of Larry Anderson – from the days of being on a bench and being with guys who may be in the process of throwing a no-hitter. He’s got certain superstitions, but I’ve always said, look, especially on radio, there’s just no way around it. You have to say it. You have to let people know what’s going on. You have to understand that two-thirds of your audience at any given moment are either turning on the radio or turning off the radio. They are getting in and out of their cars, by and large, so you have to make them aware, constantly, of what’s going on.
Again, I don’t know whether I did it enough, whether I do it too much, but I certainly don’t try to avoid saying the words just because of a ball player’s superstition or whatever superstition the fans have.