A decade later, Donald recalls breaking up Galarraga’s perfect game

Cleveland Indians' Jason Donald steps on first base as Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga takes the throw during a baseball game in Detroit, Wednesday, June 3, 2010. (Jiulian H. Gonzalez/AP)

The best and worst day of Armando Galarraga’s baseball career had plenty of memorable moments.

The dominance he displayed for nine innings. The basket catch Austin Jackson made to preserve perfection. And, of course, the blown call that turned an out into a hit — ensuring June 2, 2010 would have a unique place in baseball history for years to come.

One aspect that’s often forgotten (though it may have resurfaced in metro Detroit barroom trivia) is which Cleveland Indians player got the fateful hit with two outs in the ninth.

The answer: Jason Donald. Wait, who?

“That’s what everybody says,” Donald says now, laughing.

He’s 35 and has been out of baseball since 2014. But exactly 10 years ago, when Donald was only two weeks into his rookie season, his infield single ended Galarraga’s perfect game bid with drama and controversy.

“I think I was the most shocked person in that stadium,” Donald says. “I don’t remember having much thought, other than, ‘I can’t believe this just happened.’”

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The game was unexceptional (if not downright dull) in its early stages. Miguel Cabrera homered in the second inning to give the Detroit Tigers a lead, but otherwise the teams traded bouts of futility at the plate.

The Indians failed to muster a baserunner of any kind through three innings. Then through four. Then through five.

At that point, Donald and his teammates addressed the elephant in the ballpark: Galarraga had a perfect game going. Coincidentally, Donald and a few others had seen Galarraga throw five perfect innings in a start earlier that season for Detroit’s triple-A affiliate.

“You start to make jokes in the dugout to kind of jinx it, like, ‘Hey, this guy’s got a perfect game going,’” Donald says. “If you talk about it, you kind of jinx it in a way.”

But the time to jinx Galarraga was running out. The game was flying by, and would last only an hour and 44 minutes, as both starters pitched to contact and went the distance.

“It’s like, ‘What? Wait a sec. We’re already in the sixth?’” Donald recalls. “There was a quick pace to everything. He dictated the tempo.”

Galarraga worked a three-pitch mix with pinpoint accuracy, entering the ninth with just 75 pitches thrown. He was on pace for the most efficient perfect game in over a century.

With one out left, Donald strode to the plate. The 17,738 fans at Comerica Park rose to their feet in anticipation of history.

“I remember thinking, ‘I’m gonna do everything I can — I’m gonna fight with everything I’ve got — to break this up,” Donald says.

The first pitch was a cutter, which Donald remembers as being several inches off the plate. It was called for a strike. Oh my gosh, he thought. I’m going to have to swing at everything.

Two pitches later, Donald lunged for a reachable cutter and connected. The ball bounced between first and second, pulling Cabrera, the first baseman, toward the hole.

Donald saw Galarraga turn toward first and knew they were in for a footrace. By the time Donald stepped on the bag, Galarraga was already there, squeezing the baseball. It was over.

But then umpire Jim Joyce called Donald safe.

Donald rested his hands on his helmet and turned back toward Indians first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. in disbelief.

“You were out, bro,” Alomar Jr. said.

“I know,” Donald replied.

So did everyone else in the building. (Except Joyce, who lamented his mistake post-game.)

The next batter grounded out, giving Galarraga a one-hit shutout, but that didn’t lift the aura of awkwardness. Some Tigers players congratulated Galarraga, while others consoled him. And plenty more were yelling at Joyce.

Of the 200,000-plus games in baseball’s modern era, only 21 have been perfect. Galarraga should belong to that group, too. Instead, by no fault of his own, he is one of 13 pitchers to lose a perfect game on the 27th batter.

Donald and Galarraga reunited three years later for a brief stint on the Reds’ triple-A affiliate. Both players made occasional jokes in passing about that near-perfect day, but they never spoke about it in depth.

“He definitely understood my take was that it was nothing personal,” Donald said.

Recently, Galarraga and Joyce told the Athletic that they’d like MLB to retroactively grant Galarraga with a perfect game. But Jim Leyland, the ex-Tigers manager, said it wouldn’t be the right move.

As for Donald, he prefers not to weigh in, saying, “I want to stay far away from that.”

These days, Donald lives in his hometown of Clovis, Calif., where his young family and a job selling agricultural packaging keep him busy. That day in Detroit feels far away, even though he’s reminded of it around town at least once a month.

He didn’t keep anything from that near-perfect game (in fact, he gave his bat away to a kid the next day, after it broke). It’s not something that occurred to him at the time, as he fought everyday to stay in the majors. And looking back, he’s OK with that.

“I think the experience of it, that’s probably the best thing I’d be able to take away,” Donald says.

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