NEW YORK -- The letters keep coming, so many that there are still two boxes of mail for Armando Galarraga to sort through at Comerica Park.
The interview requests keep coming, so many that there were six reporters waiting for Galarraga Tuesday at Citi Field.
|Galarraga won over many fans with the way he blew off the blown call. (Getty Images)|
"I went out with my wife the other day, and before I knew it I was surrounded," Galarraga said. "My wife said, 'What's going on?'"
What's going on is simple, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland understands it.
"I'd say he became an instant, temporary rock star," Leyland said.
Instant, yes. Temporary? We'll have to see about that.
It's been three weeks since the 28-out perfect game, three weeks since we were captivated first by the what Galarraga did on the mound and then even more by what he did off of it.
Three weeks later, Armando Galarraga is still a big deal.
"People like the story," Galarraga said.
We love the story because we felt his pain. What should have been the final out of a perfect game became instead the most famous blown call in baseball this year, maybe ever. We love the story because we admired his restraint, when he reacted to the missed call with a smile rather than with anger.
We want to think we would have done the same thing, but we're not sure we would have. We want to think we would have hugged Joyce, as Galarraga did, and that after having a perfect game taken away, we could have said, "Nobody's perfect," as Galarraga did that night.
"It turned out great for everyone," Leyland said. "I think it even turned out great for Jim Joyce. Guys made comments about what a good umpire he is, and you probably wouldn't have had that otherwise."
But it started with Galarraga, the 28-year-old right-hander from Venezuela who kicked around the minor leagues for eight years before the Tigers finally gave him a big-league chance in 2008. Even this year, the Tigers cut Galarraga in the middle of spring training, only bringing him back to the majors when they needed an extra starter in the middle of May.
Two weeks later, he was the best-known pitcher in baseball, or at least the best known this side of Stephen Strasburg.
"He's famous in Venezuela," Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera said. "And he's famous here."
Cabrera is a legit MVP candidate, maybe even a Triple Crown candidate. And yet if you ask him who's better known now, him or Galarraga, he starts laughing.
"Him!" Cabrera says.
When Galarraga took the mound at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field for the first start after the 28-out perfect game, the White Sox fans gave him a standing ovation. It's easy to imagine New York fans cheering him before his start against the Mets this Thursday night.
It's easy to imagine fans anywhere cheering him for the rest of this year, maybe even for the rest of his career. The name is always going to stick with us, even if Galarraga never pitches another game anything like that June 2 gem against the Indians.
"If I threw a perfect game, I wouldn't be as famous," Galarraga said.
His teammates say that it hasn't changed him. They say he has dealt with the instant celebrity with the same class he showed in dealing with the game itself.
"He's having a good time," Magglio Ordonez said. "Just look at him."
You look at Galarraga, and you see the same smile he flashed to Joyce after the call that made them both famous. He really does seem to be the same guy he was before all this, the same guy who credits his education and his upbringing for teaching him how to act.
Galarraga has started three times since the 28-out game. The Tigers have won all three games, but Galarraga didn't get the decision in any of them, and his 4.24 ERA over that span is close to his career major-league ERA of 4.49.
He's understandably focused on the starts to come, on establishing himself as a pitcher who will be known for more than just one incredible night. But he also seems to understand how that night will live on for a long time to come, and how that's not a bad thing.
"I know I'll never forget that game," teammate Brandon Inge said. "That was the best exhibition of sportsmanship I've ever seen in my life."
There are those who have described Strasburg as a rock star, and there was a T-shirt for sale during one of his starts at Triple-A Syracuse that described him as just that.
But when Leyland called Galarraga an "instant, temporary rock star," that was right, too.
"I probably got letters from every college in Detroit," Galarraga said. "And every high school, every elementary school."
Yes, it's true, people like the story. And the nicest part about it is that people can like Galarraga, too.