There are ways to lose a perfect game, and there are ways to lose a perfect game. What happened to Andy Pettitte last night falls into whichever of those categories is the most painful one. Pettitte — whose second half thus far has exceeded even the most optimistic Yankee fan’s expectations — took a perfect game into the seventh inning, but with two outs, a routine ground ball to third rolled through the legs of Jerry Hairston Jr., who was in the lineup to give A-Rod a day off.
At least in the case of most other memorable near-perfect games — let’s use Mike Mussina’s from 2001 as an example — it’s a hit or a walk that does a pitcher in, something he can usually blame on himself. Carl Everett didn’t reach base because of one of the Yankees fielders; he reached because Moose threw too close a pitch with two strikes (and also because there is no God). Pettitte has never been this close to a perfect game before — his previous best was four and two-thirds perfect innings last year against Baltimore — and in all likelihood, he won’t get this close again. Yes, he would have still needed six outs, and yes, Nick Markakis did single right after the error, but as Michael Kay would say, assuming he would have gotten that hit to lead off the eighth would be to believe in the dreaded Fallacy of the Predetermined Outcome.
Of course, Pettitte’s too nice a guy to let his frustration show, but he admitted he knew what he had going, calling it “neat” to be able to do something like that this late in his career. Now he’ll always wonder what if: What if Hairston had gotten out number 21? And what if A-Rod had been playing third, instead of the jack-of-all-trades utility man? Maybe it’s not really as bad as being one strike away from a perfect game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but it sucks nonetheless.