SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When Yusmeiro Petit returned home to Venezuela over the winter, he knew all his friends and family members would want to talk about his near-perfect game.
They wanted to relive the experience of getting within one pitch of baseball immortality. They wanted a sense for the flutter in his gut, the nervous tension, the quckness of his breathing.
They wanted to know what it felt like to come so close, after 26 outs and two strikes – only to have a single hit the turf just a few inches in front of Hunter Pence’s glove in right field.
And they wanted to know one more thing.
Why in the hell didn’t he throw one more curveball?
“They all say it, everyone, everyone,” Petit said. “They say, 'He didn’t swing at a curveball. Why didn’t you throw it again?’”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Petit falls one out short of perfection]
Not the most tactful thing to ask, is it? But Petit’s friends and family knew they weren’t standing on eggshells. They knew Petit was not muttering or glowering or trapping himself in a regret loop after coming so close to throwing the 24th perfect game in major league history.
They knew as much that very night. So did everyone else who watched to the end.
“Best day in my career," said Petit, still smiling this spring at the memory of Sept. 6 at AT&T Park. “I couldn’t sleep at all. I was so happy.”
That is not the way you would expect a man to react. What would you do if you hit all six Powerball numbers, only to have the wind snatch away your ticket? That’s what made Petit’s night so remarkable. It wasn’t that he became just the 12th person in baseball history to experience the agony of getting within one out of a perfect game. It’s that he didn’t feel any agony at all.
Sure, he held his hands to his head after Pence’s diving effort came up short. But it was a moment, not a marinade.
“My reaction then?” he said. “I want to finish. That was my reaction. I saw the ball land and then I saw (Sergio) Romo running to the bullpen. I thought, `The next pitch I throw has to be a strike. I’ve got to finish what I started here.’”
Petit had never thrown a complete game in the major leagues. He wasn’t supposed to be starting games for the Giants that September. He was making just his fourth start in four seasons. Back in 2009, the last time he had a regular opportunity in a big league rotation, he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning for the Diamondbacks.
He didn’t finish that game. He wanted to finish this one.
Two pitches later, he did. And he raised his arms. Almost perfect was close to perfect for him.
So … what about that curveball? When Chavez barely laid off that 2-2 pitch in the dirt, why not double it up?
“It was a really, really, really good curveball,” he said. “I still don’t know how he didn’t swing. But you know, not scared to throw my fastball. You want the truth that night? I threw a lot of fastballs. I don’t throw hard so the hitters will wait for a cutter or a curve. That game, my command was pretty good and I just threw fastball and fastball.
“In that moment, two outs in the ninth, I believed in my fastball because I pounded the zone with it all night. … That was my pitch, a fastball away. I have to die with that pitch.”
Petit’s strong September gave his career new life. He’s out of minor league options and expected to make the staff in a long relief role. Giants manager Bruce Bochy even said he would give Petit the benefit of the doubt if he has a rough spring, since command pitchers like him seldom put up gaudy Cactus League stats. (Petit allowed four runs in the first inning in Wednesday’s exhibition opener.)
Still, the Giants have a lot of talented relief arms vying for essentially two spots. So one memorable night does not make Petit a lock.
Nor does it make him curse fate.
“God gave me that for a reason,” Petit said. “He knows the reason he didn’t give me the perfect game. I believe in him. I believe he will give me another chance.
“Because the third one, that is the winner.”