In 2011, everything melted. The best player was broken. The best prospect was traded. There was no way we expected that season to be as good as 2010, but, good gravy, no one expected it to be that bad. It was a new level of discouragement.
But there was an addition to the Giants lexicon. The 2011 season wasn't just about disappointment. There was Ryan Vogelsong. He was a Giants prospect who was sent on a quest. And 10 years later, he was a finely tuned cutting, grinding machine. For the next several decades, every NRI, every minor roster move, will make you think, "Well, what about Ryan Vogelsong?" He was a minor-league journeyman who somehow became shorthand for irrational hope. Chad Gaudin? Sure, hey, why not? Ryan Vogelsong did it.
It's not fair to Yusmeiro Petit to compare him to Vogelsong when it comes to sustained, consistent contributions. It's not fair to Vogelsong, either. But in 2013, everything melted. The best pitcher was broken. The best prospect … well, he's pretty good. There was no way we expected the season to be as good as 2012, but, good gravy, no one expected it to be this bad.
And there's an addition to the lexicon again. Where Vogelsong became synonymous with irrational hope and unlikely success, Petit is now shorthand for "Hell, yes, I'm watching that meaningless September game." When the Giants are 20-89 one year, you're going to get tickets to the game.
"Hey, who's pitching?"
"Mark Gardner, Jr."
"Whoa. I didn't even know that he …"
"Whoops, my bad. It's just Mark Gardner. The actual Mark Gardner. Ol' Mark Gardner. Gardy."
You'll still go. Because in a September in the middle of the one of the foulest seasons you'll ever watch, Yusmeiro Petit pitched one of the greatest games you'll ever watch. He's now that story. It's going to be pretty hard to top Tim Lincecum's no-hitter, but I'm absolutely in love with this game right now. I love Juan Perez's catch, and I love the 2-2 curve to Eric Chavez. While I'm not exactly thrilled that Chavez miraculously laid off the pitch, I'm happy that Petit executed the best pitch he could have possibly thrown. It was a three-second slice of perfect baseball, even if it wasn't a perfect game.
It was a Friday night game in September, and a team that was out of the race two months ago. Football season is starting, and the guy on the mound was something of an injury replacement for an injury replacement. There were 100 reasons not to watch. But if you did, you were rewarded. There were reasons to watch baseball before you had unrealistic expectations every season. There will be reasons to watch baseball after you stop having unrealistic expectations. Yusmeiro Petit will forever be one of those reasons, even if only in spirit.
Poor Hunter Pence. I would have felt worse for him if it were a bloop with a lot of time for him to run. Would have felt much worse if it were a clank off the podomere that he should have caught. As is, ain't nothing Pence could do. The ball was hit hard, the jump was okay, and the effort was there. It was a clean play all around.
But he'll see that play when he closes his eyes for a few years. There's nothing he can do about it. A step to the left. What if. A step to the left. What if. A step to the left
Seriously, though, what would the plan have been for Petit and the Giants if he had thrown the perfect game? He'd almost have to make the team next year as a 12th man, even if only for marketing purposes. Would there be a bobblehead? A t-shirt? What would they sell in the Dugout Store? Whatever it would have been, I would have bought one.
I love Matt Cain, and his perfect game was special because he was a first-round pick who became a top prospect who became an All-Star who became a World Series winner. He was already someone who was going to be brought up on the 2059 Giants telecast. The perfect game was just an embellishment of the tall tale.
But Petit would have been the randomness of baseball, personified. That's almost as thrilling. There's nothing really comparable to a perfect game in the other sports. There have been fewer than 30 out of the hundreds of thousands of games ever played. And to have a journeyman, non-roster invitee do it in front of a raucous full house would have been one of the first bullet points you'd use to explain how great baseball is.
As is, Petit lost a perfect game with one out left. He was the 12th to do it in history. That's … pretty special, too. Of the hundreds of thousands of games in history, Petit still pitched one of the most stunning games ever. As with all no-, one-, or two- hitters, there was some good fortune involved. But that's the point. It was a mixture of talent, luck, and being in the right place at the right time for the first 26 batters.
That 27th, though. Oh, that 27th.
Paul O'Neill can still lick a cactus.
All that stuff out there about Petit not being the actual Ryan Vogelsong yet? I would have put $5 to win $50 on Petit having a breakthrough season before he was 32 instead of $1 to win $1,000 on Vogelsong to do the same thing. If that makes sense. I've read it a few times, and I'm not … anyway, point is, it's much likelier for Petit to do something considering his minor-league track record and penchant for strikes than it ever was for Vogelsong to become an All-Star and postseason hero.
Long point short: It's not like this is the final chapter in Petit's tale. He's still relatively young. The odds are that he'll go the way of Armando Galarraga, and he won't have anything close to Friday night again. But weirder pitchers have beat weirder odds to do weirder things.
He'll get a little more attention next spring, though. That's for sure.
It was disappointing, but only for a few seconds. Yusmeiro Petit was five inches away from a perfect game. That wasn't anything we expected to read in our lives. That's kind of why we follow baseball.