Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Dave Matthews once sang that "two's a perfect number." I didn't agree then and I don't now; two doesn't even get you out of the top of the first. Ask Maryland what you can do with those two outs. Perfection requires twenty-seven. (And in the rarest of instances, twenty-eight.)

A perfect game always brings its own numbers with it. Baseball's numerically oriented like that. Will Roberts's perfection is no different. Like "one," as in the first perfect game ever thrown by a UVA pitcher. Or eight, the eighth nine-inning perfect game in NCAA history, or if you prefer, the number of shutouts now thrown by UVA pitchers this year, a previously unheard of statistic made possible by a combination of new, less bouncy bats and having cyborgs for pitchers. This perfect game happened to come with a special round number of its own: 2000, the number of wins in UVA history.

Still, it all comes back to 27. Baseball is the best sport partly because the numbers always tell the story. 27 up, 27 down means the same thing, every time. You don't get that in things like football or basketball, sports that are less binary, less digital, more flowing and analog. There's no equivalent achievement. You can score 50 points in basketball but there's nothing necessarily perfect about that. You can run for so many yards in a football game but there's nothing necessarily perfect about it. You still get tackled every time. But 27 is 27. 27 batters at the plate, and not one of them succeeded in the fundamental mission of baseball. There's something sublime about that.

Roberts helped himself along gorgeously. In a strange way it's perversely unfair that the back-slapping and hubbub over the perfect game overshadows a pitching performance that was - incredible as it sounds - even better than the phrase "perfect game" implies. Of the 27 batters, Roberts struck out 10, leaving just 17 chances for his fielders to screw up. And of those 17, 14 of them were putouts by the first baseman John Hicks; that is to say, ground balls. Keith Werman handled seven of them at second base (including the final out), the ideal location for a grounder. The baseball gods demand at least one lucky element to a perfect game, and Roberts got his when a hard ground bounced square off his shin and right in front of him for the easy toss to first. Roberts only saw three balls go into the air, and two of them fell into Werman's glove at second. With 10 strikeouts, 14 grounders, and two popups to second, that leaves just one ball for the outfield. (That flyout was hit by the same guy who rocketed the grounder off Roberts's leg.) Will Roberts did not stumble and luck his way into a perfect game.


- Werman's role in this should not go overlooked. The kid's got major glove chops. Werman's hitting a measly .213 and the lineup could be improved by putting Stephen Bruno (when he returns from what's become a succession of injuries) back at short and shuffling Chris Taylor to second, but there's a reason O'Connor doesn't do that and it has everything to do with Werman's outstanding glove. He made a couple non-routine plays to preserve the perfecto.

- I hear North Korea is looking for a new sports information director. Maybe the George Washington guys should apply for the job. I get that these official-site writeups are, first and foremost, about showcasing your own team's deeds and doings. It leads to occasionally comic moments, like Maryland omitting the score from the headline of a game writeup against Virginia because the score was 27-4 and that's embarrassing. But even then the score was in the first paragraph, and the next two talked about UVA. When the actual media has taken to pointing and laughing at your Baghdad Bobbery, that's how you know you've taken it a little too far. Next time, try the first paragraph instead of the seventh. There'll still be room to talk about the brilliant exploits of your mighty pitchers courageously working their way out of a bases-loaded jam for creation of great fortress of juche.

- Speaking of actual media: yes, top play on Sportscenter this morning. And a headline on UVA is not yet considered an elite program along the lines of an LSU or a Fullerton, but this is one step toward getting there.

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