NEW YORK -- At the same time that the real CC Sabathia was preparing to start for the Yankees uptown in the Bronx on Thursday, his simulated character in the MLB 2K12 video game pitched well enough to lead the Yankees to a 10-1 rout of the Tigers and earn a $1 million check for Christopher Gilmore.
Gilmore, a 21-year-old pitcher at Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla., breezed to the title in the MLB 2K12 $1 Million Perfect Game Challenge Tournament. The two-day event at the MLB Fan Cave featured eight finalists and was the culmination of an overall competition that saw more than 940,000 perfect-game attempts since Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season and more than 900 verified perfect games thrown.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet. It's an amazing thing," Gilmore said, wearing a pinstriped Yankees jersey and Yankees cap, his life just changed by a video game. "The first thing I'm definitely going to do is invest most of it, so I can live pretty good the rest of my life."
The Fan Cave living room was transformed into the same look and feel of the "Perfect Club" that was featured in the TV commercials starring Kate Upton, Justin Verlander and Randy Johnson. There were framed paintings on the velvet curtains featuring the likenesses of Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter and Jim Bunning. And there was Upton herself, interviewing finalists and providing color commentary -- along with MLB Network studio analyst Harold Reynolds -- for the taped show that will air on Spike TV at 11:30 p.m. ET on May 24.
"One million dollars," Upton said with emphasis after handing the oversized check to Gilmore.
As a prelude to the event, Upton went back into the makeshift makeup room where Verlander two weeks ago surprised little Shayna Hersh, and she agreed to dance with Cave Dwellers Ricardo Marquez and Ricky Mast. She wore her same black number from the 2K commercials, but Verlander was not around on this day. He was, however, part of the game.
Gilmore went up against Charlie Bates of Conway, Ark., in the final of the single-elimination tournament. Bates chose to be the Tigers, and he started Verlander. Gilmore went with Sabathia and the Bombers. The game setting was Comerica Park. They sat in chairs in front of a big screen and played every inning with cameras everywhere, first choosing their rosters.
"I knew I had to pitch my best guy, so I just had to ride him as long as I could," Gilmore said, when asked about the coincidence of starting Sabathia on the lefty's real start night.
The only damage to Gilmore's pitcher was a leadoff triple by Jhonny Peralta in the bottom of the third. Peralta scored on a wild pitch that tied the score at 1, and Gilmore got his bullpen up just in case. But the computerized Sabathia proceeded to strike out the side.
Gilmore's Yankees plated two in the fourth and five in the fifth, chasing Verlander after Nick Swisher's two-run triple made it 3-1 in the fourth. Colin Balester entered the game at that point, and it was never close thereafter. When asked whether Bates had pulled Verlander too early, Gilmore noted that both finalists had pitch counts for their starters. Sabathia could throw only up to 71 pitches in the final, and Verlander could go up to only 38, not very Verlander-like.
"He could have started somebody else so the disadvantage would have gone away," Gilmore said. "But in a game like this, you've got to pitch your best guy. That's what I was surprised at."
Sabathia went eight innings, and Gilmore closed it out with David Robertson and then -- serious enough to consider lefty-righty matchups given the prize -- Boone Logan. When Prince Fielder grounded out to second to end it, Gilmore and Bates stood up and hugged. There was no big celebration yell.
"I mean, I don't want to be disrespectful to my opponent," Gilmore said. "I have a lot of respect to all these guys here. They're all very good people and I don't want to disrespect them like that. I want to give them a handshake and say, 'Thank you very much.' But inside, my heart was beating like crazy."
Gilmore said his first time playing the game was MLB 2K11. "I got a week into the game and the competition had already started, so I was a little late," he said.
This year, the format was changed. The eight finalists were determined by a dynamic leaderboard ranking the "most perfect" games thrown. 2K Sports used an algorithm to rank individual perfect games, based on degree of difficulty (such as the opposing team's offensive prowess and selected pitcher's skill) and degree of perfection (number of strikeouts, pitching efficiency).
The other finalists included Walter Novack, Robert Romanowski, Matthew Lein, Kyle Cibrario, William Haff, and Sean Jaquith. Because they already had thrown perfect games, these eight simply had to "win" each game in the tournament at Fan Cave.
"We wanted to make this year's Perfect Game Challenge more exciting, more challenging and more engaging with a greater number of our fans, and we've been thrilled with the overwhelming level of participation," said Jason Argent, vice president of marketing for 2K Sports.
"It was great that they did this," Gilmore said. "The previous times, the guys won the competition within an hour of when the competition started. They'd start the game, videotape it and stuff, win it right away. This is better, because more people get a chance to get in. They had almost a million entries, so that's pretty cool."
It was a cool million. Gilmore was now in the Perfect Club. Upton welcomed him with the satin smoking jacket, the kind Verlander wore when he tried to sneak into the club on TV. This was real in a way, not real in another way, and "pretty fun" for Gilmore.