It was the perfect scenario for the 23rd perfect game since the NCAA began recording Division I baseball statistics in 1957.
Miami Hurricanes pitcher Javi Salas took the mound Tuesday for the ninth inning against Villanova, his younger brother Jorge began the play-by-play for UM’s student radio station and their mother Aurora sat in Alex Rodriguez Park with a transistor radio in her hands, headphones on her ears and her heart pounding so furiously she could barely watch.
“And here we go,” Jorge began in only the second baseball broadcast of his life. “The windup, the kick from Salas, the pitch. Swung on and missed and it’s a perfect game! Salas did it! A perfect game for Javi Salas! Folks, we just witnessed history! It’s a perfect game for Javi Salas! Zeros across the board. And Javi Salas has thrown a perfect game against the Villanova Wildcats on this fourth night of March, 2014.
“Oh my goodness!”
Aurora Salas, surrounded by her husband and family, began to cry.
Javi Salas began to cry.
“A blur,” she said. “I heard my son Jorge screaming on the radio, I saw the players jumping on Javier and everyone started hugging me.’’
The Hurricanes defeated Villanova 17-0 Tuesday, and Salas did the near impossible by retiring all 27 batters he faced.
There are 296 full-status Division I baseball teams that each play a maximum of 56 regular-season games a year. Not counting Salas’ performance, since 1970 there have been about 556,338 opportunities for a perfect game and only 16 accomplished in that span — one perfect game for about every 37,089 opportunities, according to NCAA assistant director of Division I baseball statistics Jeff Williams.
The first perfect game recorded, remember, dates back 57 years.
UM’s other perfect game, which for some reason wasn’t entered in the NCAA record books until Wednesday, was by Kevin Sheary against Southern Illinois on March 14, 1987.
“You are talking about amateur players and to be perfect requires incredible focus,’’ said Aaron Fitt, national college baseball writer for Baseball America. “You have to be lucky and you have to have flawless defense behind you. There are going to be pitches left over the plate. It’s pretty neat.’’
Said UM baseball coach Jim Morris, who has coached in 2,189 games: “I’ve never seen a perfect game live. That was cool.”
For Salas, a 6-4, 227-pounder who returned for his senior year after being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 38th round last year, “surreal” is a better description.
“I’m just so glad I was a part of history, that this team was a part of history,” the right-hander said Wednesday, pointing out two spectacular defensive plays — the first by second baseman Alex Hernandez and the next by left fielder Sebastian Diaz — that saved perfection.
“Obviously a perfect game doesn’t happen without the help of your teammates. [Pitching coach] J.D. Arteaga called a great game, I was in sync with my catchers the whole night and a few balls bounced our way.
“It’s one of those things you dream of as a little kid. It was just amazing.”
And all of it was witnessed Tuesday night by millions of ESPN SportsCenter viewers. Salas and his family huddled around the TV in the living room of their Coral Gables home as the final play was rated No. 1 among ESPN’s daily top 10.
Salas, whose perfect game was publicized in countries as far as New Zealand, said he realized something strange was brewing in the bottom of the sixth when he noticed no one would talk to him.
“By the last batter I had so much adrenaline going I was just trying to stay under control and take deep breaths,” he said.
Salas (1-1, 1.59 ERA) was originally set to pitch Wednesday, but Morris switched him to Tuesday, when freshman Jorge was by chance assigned to the WVUM broadcast.
“It was a complete coincidence,” said WVUM sports director Chris Wittyngham, who sent a text message to the broadcast team in the sixth inning to tell them “not to worry about jinxing’” Salas’ perfect game and to make sure they informed listeners about the possible perfect performance.
“I was incredibly nervous,” said Jorge, who called the fourth through sixth innings and was given the honor of calling the final three outs.
“Javi Salas back on the mound for the ninth inning,” Jorge told listeners. “He’s sent 24 up, 24 down so far. … I just want to say something. I’m Jorge Salas. I’m Javi’s little brother. Just to make sure everyone knows if there’s a little waver out there … if I get a little bit too excited you guys know why.”
After the game, Jorge got to interview Javi on air.
“I’m with my brother right now,” Javi said during the interview. “This might be better than the perfect game right now. I still can’t believe I’m up here in the radio booth with my brother, man. This is awesome This is unbelievable. … I love you.”
Salas, who lives two blocks from UM and graduated from Miami Columbus High, had to write a paper for his management class Tuesday night and didn’t get to sleep until 2 a.m. The son of lawyers, he has a 3.4 GPA, will graduate with an accounting degree in May and one day intends to earn his master’s degree and get his CPA license.
So, what ever could be better than perfection?
“Going to Omaha for the College World Series,” Salas said. “That’s the reason I came back. This team has a lot of unfinished business and new territory to conquer. I’m just enjoying the ride while I can.”