For Justin Germano
, the 2011 season has been a long, strange trip. In fact, it's not even over yet.
The 29-year-old right-hander opened the season in the Cleveland Indians bullpen and is now suiting up in the Korean Baseball Organization as a member of the Samsung Lions. But along the way the well-traveled veteran managed to do something that all pitchers dream of but very few are actually able to accomplish.
He threw a perfect game.
Germano's night of perfection occurred July 26, when he was pitching for the International League's Columbus Clippers (Cleveland's Triple-A affiliate). His efficient dispatch of 27 consecutive Syracuse batsmen elevated what would have been a dreary Tuesday in the dog days of summer into one of the most memorable moments of the 2011 season. Certainly, the perfecto is a worthy recipient of the MiLBY Award for Overall and Triple-A Game of the Year.
"The [perfect] game is definitely the highlight of my year. There isn't much that could top that," wrote Germano, who opted to conduct an interview over email given the logistics involved with communicating from Korea.
And very few pitchers can boast of such a feat. The International League has been in existence since 1884, and in that time only four other pitchers had thrown a perfect game. Germano's was the first in the 35-season history of the Columbus Clippers, and the first in the IL since Bronson Arroyo tossed one for Pawtucket in 2003 (apropos of nothing but interesting nonetheless: Arroyo and Germano were teammates on the 2006 Cincinnati Reds).
"I think pretty much every pitcher dreams of throwing a perfect game. We are definitely aware of how tough and how rare this feat is," noted Germano, who recorded seven strikeouts over the course of his hyper-efficient 95-pitch masterpiece. "Even if there were 100 perfect games in the history of the IL, it would still be a great accomplishment for anyone."
But as is often the case with nights of great accomplishment, the evening of July 26 started off in pedestrian fashion.
"Pre-game, it felt like just another day. [I had] nothing special in the bullpen warming up," related Germano. "[It] actually took me two or three innings to really feel locked in. The biggest part of my game plan is just attacking the hitters. I try to get guys out with as few pitches as possible."
This aggressive approach worked to, well, perfection on July 26. And as the game wore on, so did the tension.
"I think once I got to the sixth inning, it looked like it was in reach," wrote Germano. "But I knew anything could happen. I didn't want any extra pressure put on myself, so I started telling myself 'If you do it, you do it. If not, no big deal.' I just wanted to keep the same gameplan and not change anything. I didn't want to try to pitch a perfect game."
This zen-like mental approach paid dividends. Germano retired the first two batters of the climactic ninth inning on just five pitches, and then cemented his place in International League lore by striking out Corey Brown with a well-placed 1-2 offering.
A celebratory "beer shower" in the clubhouse soon ensued, followed by a barrage of congratulatory texts and phone calls. But there wasn't too much time to bask in the accomplishment, as the perfect game turned out to be Germano's penultimate appearance with the Clippers. After a lackluster follow-up start July 31, he was granted his release from the Cleveland organization so that he could pursue his baseball fortunes in Korea.
"My experience in Korea has been good so far. ... I think [the players] are a bit underrated here," wrote Germano. "When people think of baseball in Asia, they automatically just think Japan. I've played in both leagues, and I think they are just as good here."
Korea is just the latest stop for the peripatetic pitcher, who has now appeared for three teams in two continents over the course of his still-ongoing 2011 campaign.
"It's been a long year, with a lot of ups and downs," wrote Germano. "Regardless of how the year ends, at least I now have a perfect game on my resume."