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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 15, 2010

MLB: Bradenís perfect game not just lightning in a bottle

By Mark Whicker
The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM, Calif.ó He staggered off the mound and turned his back Friday night, staring at the frothing red territory into which Hideki Matsui's drive would land.

Most pitchers know the quick, lonesome sound of a home run. They drop their heads, or hold their gloves up for another baseball.

Dallas Braden, a believer in each valuable big league moment, wanted to see it. Every foot of it.

"I felt like I almost told him it was coming," Braden said later. "He leaned on it."

When Matsui's home run landed, Braden trailed the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 4-0, having used eight pitches to strike out Torii Hunter, with Angels on first and second. Kendry Morales came up and smacked a first-pitch breaking ball for an RBI single, and then came Matsui, on a tastily high 1-0 fastball.

Braden's 16-inning scoreless streak was done. Bobby Abreu had doubled with two outs in the first to stop Braden's 29-out streak, which equals an Oakland record.

So Braden's week of fame was over, or interrupted. Alex Rodriguez had said Braden would be a news item for only 15 minutes, after Braden had upbraided him for running back across his mound.

In truth, Braden showed Friday night why he will extend his career clock many years. The imperfect games are educational, too.

His first three innings against the Angels took nine, 10, 12 and 13 pitches. He had Hunter down, 1-2, in the fourth and threw three consecutive changeups until he got a fly ball to right. He had Erick Aybar down, 1-2, in the third and finished him with a 72-mph softie.

Challenged by Braden's efficiency, Joe Saunders of the Angels was even better, throwing first-pitch strikes to eight of the first 10 Athletics he faced.

The 4-0 victory was Saunders' first victory since April 17, and he came into this game with an ERA that was the San Diego area code (6.19).

"Now I'm 2 for 2 against guys who were 'struggling,"' Braden said, making quote marks with his fingers, referring to losses to Saunders and Texas' Rich Harden.

He was told Matsui had come in from the cold, too ó 7 for 58, in fact.

"Yeah, cool, awesome," he said. "Tell him to send me a check."

He was asked to evaluate this game-after, an eight-inning, 98-pitch performance.

"Poor," he replied. "We lost. For the most part it's below average. Until you put a ring on my finger and we're still standing at the end, that's when I'll flip out mentally."

Braden's story brought coast-to-coast smiles after he retired all 27 Tampa Bay hitters on Sunday. His grandmother, Peggy Lindsey, was on hand to see this Mother's Day masterpiece; Dallas' single mother, Jodie Atwood died of cancer when he was in high school.

"We're going to have to grease her up to get her into the house," Braden said of Lindsey. "She's on Cloud 10, I'm on Cloud 9."

His baseball path was just as unlikely. He was a 24th-round pick out of Texas Tech, via American River JC, via Stagg High in Stockton. Since his velocity rarely matched the Stockton temperature, he had to persuade the scouts with performance.

He made honorable mention All-Big 12 at Tech, and he was in Double-A 19 starts after he signed with Oakland.

"He had the changeup all along," said Ron Romanick, the A's bullpen coach, former minor league coordinator and an Angels starting pitcher in the 1980's.

"He had the golden number, 12 mph between his change and his fastball. He's a lot like Jamie Moyer that way. I was in the Seattle organization when they offered Jamie a job as a coach. That's a long time ago and he's still winning (at 47, in Philadelphia). But Dallas has a lot more on his fastball than Jamie did."

There have been 19 perfect games. From 1922 to 1964, there were none in the regular season, a stretch that encompasses the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War and the entire life of James Dean.

Romanick was in the Angels dugout when Mike Witt perfected Texas in 1985. He was in the bullpen Sunday, when shortstop Cliff Pennington threw out Gabe Kapler for Out No. 27.

"Both were surreal," he said. "From the sixth inning we didn't say very much. If the phone had rung we weren't going to answer it. We were just sitting there savoring the good vibes. It's like a double wow ó a no-hitter, and then you realize what's next."

"It was almost like I didn't have a choice," Braden said Thursday. "I sort of relinquished everything to a higher power."

His friends quickly applied gravity.

"That was ball four to Kapler," texted Greg Smith, an ex-Oakland teammate now in Colorado.

Surreal? Sure, but don't stop watching Dallas Braden on all his other nights, when he's very real.