Perfection eludes Yusmeiro Petit, but still a 'beautiful' night

Yusmeiro Petit's Perfect Game-bid broken up with two outs in ninth

Perfection eludes Yusmeiro Petit, but still a 'beautiful' night
September 6, 2013, 11:45 pm
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Yusmeiro Petit raises his arms in jubilation after throwing a complete game, one-hitter on Friday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Yusmeiro Petit reacts to Eric Chavez's hit in the ninth inning that was nearly caught by Hunter Pence. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SAN FRANCISCO – Perfection can be interrupted at any moment.

Something curious happens, though, when a fat thumb strikes the key on the final note, after 26 outs and two strikes, when the crowd is already at full boil, when disbelief already reached the lip and began to cascade and crash into expectations.

[RELATED: Instant Replay -- Yusmeiro Petit falls one out short of perfection]

But when Yusmeiro Petit lost his perfect game at the last possible moment in the ninth inning Friday night, when Arizona Diamondbacks pinch hitter Eric Chavez placed a two-out, two-strike single inches in front of right fielder Hunter Pence, the Giants’ journeyman right-hander did not go over the edge.

He reset himself, retired the next batter and thrust both arms in the air to acknowledge his maker for what he did accomplish: his first major league shutout -- a 95-pitch, one-hit masterpiece, in a 3-0 victory Friday night that might not be logged in the record books but was nonetheless indelible to the sellout crowd that took in the sight at Third and King.

Petit did not become the 24th pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game. Instead, by a margin of one strike and maybe six inches, he became the 12th pitcher to get within one out of perfection and lose it.

It’s a more exclusive club, when you think about it. Even if nobody wants to wear the jacket. And it was the second brush with Tantalus this season; Texas’ Yu Darvish also lost a perfect game with two outs in the ninth.

So much goes into any performance like this. There was Juan Perez’s diving catch in the sixth inning, just after manager Bruce Bochy inserted him for defense. There was Pence scoring all three runs, including a homer in the eighth.

Mostly, there was Petit, mixing four pitches and throwing them all for strikes – not even getting to a three-ball count until two outs in the eighth.

When you distilled it all to the final batter, though, it came down to three essential elements.

No, not the 89 mph fastball that Petit threw on the outside corner that Chavez managed to stay through. It’s the pitch before that – the 2-2 curveball – that might have made all the difference.

“I never thought he’d let it go, that pitch,” catcher Hector Sanchez said. “It’s a great at-bat.”

Petit started it with two balls, then two fastballs for called strikes. Chavez was measuring the jabs and looking for an opening. He expected the right-hander would try one big hook.

“The 2-2 curveball in the dirt was probably the biggest pitch of the at-bat and I laid off,” Chavez said. “I think that’s what he was getting other guys to swing at.

“Eventually, I thought he was going to go with the curveball. You just don’t know at what count. On the 3-2 pitch, there was a little bit, in the back of my mind, that he was going to go back to it again, but he didn’t.”

What did Petit think?

“What surprised me is how he didn’t swing,” he said, calling the 3-2 fastball that followed “the pitch I wanted to throw.”

Chavez predicted that much.

“In that at-bat, I bet you he’d say he didn’t miss any of his pitches,” the former A’s All-Star third baseman said.

Hunter Pence stood in right field and beamed at what surrounded him. Here was another sellout crowd, suddenly imbued with energy as if the last three months had never happened. It wasn’t a playoff race. But there was energy and hope again.

He already had saved one no-hitter this season. Back on July 13, his diving catch of Alexi Amarista’s sinking line drive ended the eighth inning and preserved a no-hit bid that Tim Lincecum eventually would see through.

He had a similar chance on a similar play. Chavez’s line drive was dying, and he was running.

“I said this, honestly, to teammates: When it was hit, it was like one of those dreams where you just couldn’t run fast enough,” Pence said. “I gave it my best effort. It just wasn’t enough.”

The ball short-hopped maybe a foot in front of Pence’s glove as he dived for it. Hope drained out from the stands.

Pence scored all three runs in the game and hit a home run in the eighth inning – putting him one away from becoming the first Giant with 20 homers and 20 steals since Barry Bonds in 1998.

He’s been the most consistent producer for the Giants all season, and he’ll probably be the only National League player to start 162 games.

It wasn’t a dream ending, even if it felt like one. But the entire night reinforced Pence’s belief in a simple tenet of this game:

“It’s nights like this that prove it: Every time you come to the park, there’s an opportunity for something special to happen,” he said. “And it did tonight.”

Giants manager Bruce Bochy is forever studying his players, and not just to gauge their fastball velocity or their bat speed.

As former manager Felipe Alou often said, “It is the man you want to see.”

So Bochy watched Petit after Chavez’s hit. He had a hunch the 29-year-old, moments after clapping his hands to his head, would take a leaf blower to disappointment and scatter it away.

He was right. Petit threw two more pitches and got the ground ball to third base he needed to finish the complete game – just the second by a Giant this season, including Lincecum’s no-hitter.

He did it on 95 pitches. The last Giant to throw a nine-inning complete game with fewer pitches was Mark Portugal in 1994.

There are very few Giants, though, who have experienced the agony of getting One Out Away. In 1990, Scott Garrelts needed one more when Paul O’Neill singled off him to break up a no-hitter. And in 1914, Jeff Tesreau probably had to console himself with a draught of laudanum after Joe Kelly broke up his no-hit bid with two outs in the ninth.

Petit did not appear numb. He just went back to work.

“To get this close, it breaks your heart a little,” Bochy said. “It tells you about his makeup. He didn’t let it bother him.”

Petit wasn’t supposed to be starting games for the Giants this season. He only started once last year, and that’s when the club was resting its rotation for the playoffs. Prior to that, he hadn’t started a big league game since 2009 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t curse fate. He still had a chance to stand on the highest pedestal he’d ever reached in his baseball life.

“The last two outs, I said, `Well, it could go either way,’” Petit said through translator Jose Alguacil. “I just have to throw a good pitch.

“I thanked God for everything that happened right there. Even when he got the hit, I gave thanks. I’m very blessed. … I didn’t feel nervous at all. I feel all the crowd is behind me and that gave me strength.

“First complete game in the big leagues, and I feel the same as if I’d thrown the no-hitter.”

“Just a beautiful game,” Bochy said. “Just a tremendous display of pitching. I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s fought his way to stay up here. He sent a tremendous message that this is where he belongs and this is where he should be pitching.”

The manager kept going back to that same word: “beautiful.”

Fans fall in love hardest and deepest with those players to whom they can most relate. Exalted though it might be, it’s hard to relate to perfection.

Anyone can stand next to beauty and admire it. And on an unseasonably warm Friday night, Yusmeiro Petit had everyone’s admiration.

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