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Opinion: Joyce, Galarraga deserve respect for their actions

Home plate umpire Jim Joyce, left, shakes hands with Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga while handing the lineup card on the field before the Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians MLB baseball game in Detroit, Thursday. Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning on a disputed call at first base by Joyce on Wednesday night. (AP Photo)

There's only one person in the world I respect more than 23-year veteran Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce right now.

And that's Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga.

The right-hander should be listed as the 21st pitcher in the history of the major leagues to ever have thrown a perfect game.

With one wrong call, Joyce negated history.

Wednesday evening in Detroit, Galarraga put down 26 batters in a row. With two out in the top of the ninth inning -- and one out shy of a perfect game -- a soft grounder was hit to the right side of the infield. Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera fielded it, tossed it to Galarraga -- who was covering first base -- and the momentary celebration started.

That is, until Joyce signaled safe.

Indians' No. 9 hitter, Jason Donald, was about a step shy of the base when Galarraga caught the ball and touched first.

After watching replays postgame, Joyce admitted to the mistake.

"It was the biggest call of my career, and I kicked the (stuff) out of it," Joyce said, looking and sounding distraught as he paced in the umpires' locker room after Wednesday's game. "I just cost that kid a perfect game."

After the blown call, Tigers' manager Jim Leyland rushed out to the field to give Joyce an earful. Players from both teams begged and pleaded to Joyce in hopes for the what-should-have been 27th out.

But immediately after the call, without a knee-jerk reaction, Galarraga looked at Joyce speechlessly and smiled.

The next batter grounded out harmlessly and, bitter-sweetly, the right-hander walked into the locker room ready to field a barrage of questioning focused solely on the imperfect game.

What came next surprised Galarraga.

"You don't see an umpire after the game come out and say, 'Hey, let me tell you I'm sorry,' " Galarraga said. "He felt really bad. He didn't even shower."

It's next to unheard of for an umpire to acknowledge a mistake in a sport that relies almost exclusively on the human eye. But after Joyce realized his error, he sought out Galarraga.

A tearful apology was more than enough. The Tigers' pitcher never pointed another finger, acknowledging umpires, too, are human.

Thursday was the final day of the three-game series for the Indians and Tigers, and, because of what transpired the night before, Major League Baseball offered Joyce to skip the final game.

He declined.

Though, Thursday wasn't just another day at the ballpark for either Joyce or Galarraga.

The two met at home plate pregame, as Galarraga presented the Tigers' lineup card.

Joyce, emotionally distraught, offered a tearful apology to Galarraga, who, once again, just smiled.

For Joyce -- who, in 2006, was named by Sports Illustrated as one of the top umpires in the majors -- it absolutely takes a lot to admit to the error and hop back on the horse the next day.

But for Galarraga, his patience and understanding of human error is unbelievable. For him to not blame, judge or even get upset at Joyce is simply wonderful.

That's why I'll never forget Galarraga, his imperfect game and his calm, composed attitude.

Oh, and even though Galarraga won't have his name in the record books as a perfect game -- the play was ruled an infield single -- he'll always have his 2010 Chevy Corvette that was presented to him surprisingly by General Motors the day after what could have and should have been.