Jorge Salas didn’t want to say it, and neither did Alex Somer or Will Gretsky, his broadcast partners on WVUM.
Jorge’s older brother, Javi, was on the mound at home for the Miami Hurricanes, and last year’s 38th-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins was in the process of throwing a masterpiece against Villanova on Tuesday night.
Three up, three down. There was nothing really unusual about that. Miami also went down in order in the bottom of the first inning, the only time it would do so against the Wildcats.Nine up, nine down. ... Fifteen up, 15 down. This was getting interesting, but none of young broadcasters could bring themselves to risk the wrath of the baseballs gods and mention one very simple, but oh-so magical, phrase.
A freshman accounting major at Miami, 19-year-old Jorge was calling just the second game of his life. His first came less than two weeks ago. Still, he knew enough to know that baseball people – broadcasters included – don’t tempt fate. It can be a funny game like that, kind of like not stepping on the foul line between innings. Texts from a producer urged them to take the plunge.
“We would look at each other between innings, and we were like, ‘We just really don’t want to talk about it,’ ” Jorge said. “Our producer sent texts to all of us individually, saying, ‘Guys, we need you to be talking about it. This is your job.’ We didn’t want to jinx it. We’re all baseball guys, and we didn’t want to mess anything up.”
It was at about the same time that the game he was having began to dawn on Javi. He took a look around him in the dugout, and … nothing. Nobody was around, nobody talking to him, almost as if he had the plague.
It’s a baseball thing.
“It probably didn’t hit me until the sixth inning,” Javi said. “I was sitting in the dugout, and I just kind of noticed no one was talking to me. I took a quick glance at the scoreboard and that’s when I realized, ‘Wow. There’s something brewing here.’ Whatever happens, but at least I was going to do my part and make quality pitches.”
The Hurricanes wound up blasting Villanova 17-0, so the victory itself was never really in doubt. How Javi fared was a different matter. Miami leftfielder Sebastian Diaz made a diving catch to rob Donovan May for the third out in the top of the eighth inning, and then came the ninth.
Jorge came back from the commercial break by apologizing, hoping that listeners would understand if he got a little excited because he was Javi’s little brother. Even then, Jorge did not mention the perfect game.
Twenty-four up, 24 down.
Villanova pinch-hitter Kevin Rojko grounded to first base. One out.
“You’re just hoping that nothing happens like a cheap hit, a bunt or something like that,” Jorge said. “You don’t want any bloop singles. You’re just hoping that you get the last three outs.”
Zander Retamar lofted a fly ball to center field. Two out.
“Everyone was just so tense,” Jorge continued. “Every out, every pitch, it was like everyone was just holding their breath. You could just feel the people that were there … it was just incredible.”
The people who were there included Javi and Jorge’s parents, Raul and Aurora. The brothers grew up in Coral Gables, maybe five minutes from Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park. Their grandparents were in the stands, too, along with a couple of uncles.Family. Baseball. Home. This was perfect after all. Javi knew where his family always sits during his games, and he could hear his parents and uncle Albert yelling encouragment from the stands. He tried his best, though, not to look at any of them during the game and in the final frame in particular.
“That was probably the most adrenaline I had,” Javi said. “I was trying to just stay under control. That’s the hardest part when you get in that situation, just trying to catch your breath every once in a while and focus in.
“I know exactly when they’re there, but I didn’t look up. I was trying to stay focused and stay in the same zone that I was in, trying not to get too caught up in the moment. There was still a game to be played.”
Another pinch-hitter, Derrick May Jr., struck out swinging to end the game. Twenty-seven up, 27 down. The perfect game was Javi’s, and Jorge’s, too, for that matter.
Russ Hodges, meet Jorge Salas.
And here we go, 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, zeroes 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 …
“The last out, I just went crazy,” Jorge admitted. “I don’t even remember what I said. I just was yelling. It was a great experience.”
Down on the field, his Hurricane teammates mobbed Javi, who’d lost his only other decision this year, 5-2 against Florida Atlantic on Feb. 19. It was only the second perfect game in school history, the last thrown by Kevin Sheary on March 14, 1987. Ironically, Sheary and Salas wore No. 22 for their perfect games.
Although Javi had to finish up work on a paper for his management class after the game, and three classes the next morning, he had time to visit the press box. This was no ordinary post-game interview.
“I can’t believe I’m in the radio booth with my brother right now, this might be better than the perfect game,” he said with a grin, and then added Wednesday afternoon, “It was one of the coolest moments of my life, the fact that he’s doing what he loves, I’m doing what I love and we got to share that moment. He means so much to me and my success. We’re best friends, and I love him to death. The fact we got to share that moment was surreal.”
Thing was, he meant it. Yes, Jorge is his kid brother, and sure, they’ve probably butted heads a few times through the years. But from the sound of it, Javi is Jorge’s hero, and it didn’t take a baseball game to do it.
“Me and my brother are very, very close,” Jorge said. “He’s three years older than me, but I consider him my best friend. He’s always been there for me. I live in the dorms at UM, and he lives at home, but that doesn’t matter. I talk to him every day, and we hang out constantly.”