Galarraga, Donald perfectly reunited with Reds
Players forever linked after near perfect game in Detroit in June 2010
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- If the name or sight of umpire Jim Joyce didn't already give pitcher Armando Galarraga a frequent reminder about his should-have-been perfect game, he now has a daily reminder this spring.
In Reds camp as a non-roster player, Galarraga's locker is directly across the clubhouse from utility infielder Jason Donald. The two men, along with Joyce, are forever intertwined over one of the most unique moments to happen in baseball.
"We never have an in-depth discussion, but it was, 'Oh, hey ... good to see you again,'" Donald said. "It wasn't anything like, 'Hey, you remember when I ruined the best game of your life?' He's such a good guy and I know he understands. It's something we can both look back on and know we were a part of history."
On June 2, 2010, while with the Indians and playing the Tigers, Donald hustled up the line to run out a ground ball near first base. As Miguel Cabrera fielded the ball, Galarraga covered the bag and received the flip in time -- seemingly for a 27th consecutive out and perfection.
That was until Joyce called Donald safe and Galarraga would have to settle for a one-hit shutout. A respected veteran umpire, Joyce quickly regretted his split-second decision once he saw the replay. He later went to the Tigers' clubhouse and apologized to Galarraga, who immediately accepted and created an aura of sportsmanship that continues to be in high regard.
Galarraga, who declined an interview request, even co-authored a book with Joyce that was released a year later titled "Nobody's Perfect: Two Men, One Call, and a Game for Baseball History."
The third man in that moment, Donald, is content to have not become as prominent in the Galarraga-Joyce connection.
"I get some pictures every now and again that people want me to sign," Donald said. "It's not that I try to stay away from it. I feel like I'm just kind of the guy in the middle. It's not really about me. It was about Jim and about Armando, and the way they were able to kind of rectify the situation and take the controversy out of it."
Little of the experience from a pro career that began in 2006 could prepare Donald for how to handle trying not to be the final out in a perfect game. Absolutely nothing prepped Donald for being wrongly called safe to break one up.
"I don't think you know how you're going to react until something like that happens," Donald said. "Luckily for me, there wasn't much emphasis on me. I was trying to help our team win, and that was it."
Life on the field since being almost perfect has drifted to the furthest thing from it for Galarraga, who never again approached the groove he had on that June evening in Detroit. He finished the 2010 season 4-9 with a 4.49 ERA, and struggled to recapture the magic. Along the way, he reportedly grew weary from the constant attention.
Galarraga also stopped pounding the strike zone and often drove Detroit manager Jim Leyland crazy by shaking off pitch calls from his catchers. In an August game at Chicago, tension boiled over when Galarraga got into a shouting match with catcher Alex Avila over pitch selection. That escalated to a scuffle with backup catcher Gerald Laird. By the following winter, Galarraga was traded to the Diamondbacks.
After only eight games and a 5.91 ERA in 2011, Arizona outrighted Galarraga to Triple-A and he spent the last half of the season on the disabled list. The 2012 season began in the Minors for the Orioles organization before a move to the Astros. In five big league starts, he was 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA and gone by late August.
Cincinnati signed the 31-year-old Galarraga to a Minor League deal in January. It didn't originally include an invite to big league camp, but one was extended after a spot opened.
"I've had a chance to talk with him about where he's been the last couple of years and how he's felt," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He's struggled especially in 2011 with overall arm health."
Galarraga was bothered by a sore elbow in '11, but he did not need surgery. In two games this spring, he has a 1.80 ERA, with one run, three hits, one walk and four strikeouts over five innings.
"This is the first time he's really felt strong and normal the last couple of years," Price said. "I think we're seeing the best of who he is right now. He's a hard worker, throws strikes and competes well. That brings something to the table. With spots being at a premium, it's important for him to show that on a consistent basis."
Price has never discussed the night of near-perfection with Galarraga and doesn't plan to anytime soon.
"I really felt for a couple of people on that -- for him and for Jim Joyce, who I think is one of the best umpires in baseball," Price said. "You could see how both of them handled it the next day. It was unbelievable -- with Jim working the plate and Armando taking out the lineup card. I'm sure Jim appreciated that and I'm sure anyone in baseball could have some compassion for that situation."
As for Donald, he spent the past two seasons alternating between Cleveland and Triple-A. He batted .202 in 43 big league games last season. The Reds acquired Donald from the Indians in the same trade that brought over Shin-Soo Choo.
Neither Galarraga nor Donald can afford to spend much time thinking about being together in the same clubhouse. Both are simply trying to land jobs in the big leagues with the Reds. Galarraga, a long shot because the rotation and bullpen are stacked with talent, could wind up at Triple-A Louisville. Donald, who is out of Minor League options, is vying to be a backup infielder and outfielder. The 28-year-old is batting .316 in 11 games this spring.
"I feel like it's been a good camp thus far," Donald said. "The most important thing is getting ready for the season, no matter where you're at. I've been getting work in at different spots."
As teammates, perhaps one day Galarraga and Donald will be involved in a Reds game umpired by Joyce. Major League Baseball named him a crew chief for the upcoming season.
"He's a pro about it and has continued to be professional about it," Donald said of Galarraga. "You can't ask for more than that. He has every right to be bitter and he's not, at all."