T.J. Brida usually shows up 15 minutes ahead of his shift. This day, he was thinking he'd be late. He pulled on his work shirt, ran out the front door, got in his car and lit a cigarette, cursing and smacking the steering wheel all the way.
T.J. Brida had just thrown 13 1/3 innings of perfect baseball. And then he gave up a hit.
Brida was gunning for a berth in the money round of Major League Baseball 2K12's $1,000,000 Perfect Game Challenge, a contest that began on Wednesday. The minimum requirement to advance is retiring 27 consecutive batters. Brida, using Roy Halladay of his beloved Phillies, sat down 40. But he didn't get the last one.
When he arrived, his co-workers already knew what had happened. They'd followed his updates on Facebook. "3 more outs!!!! One problem I have no runs lol," he wrote. "OMG perfect through 12. Someone come by and teach me how to score!!!"
He had to smoke a third cigarette in the parking lot of the Philadelphia-area Best Buy where he works just to calm himself down before he started the day. When he walked through the front door, the security officer standing by it met his gaze and said softly, "Are you kidding me?"
"Trust me, I was pretty pissed," Brida told me today. There's an Xbox 360 kiosk in his Best Buy, with MLB 2K12 on it. Fortunately, Brida works in cell phones, all the way on the other side of the big box floor. "My department is so far from it. I just said hell no, I wasn't going near that," he said. "I was so stressed. You could see it on my face and hear it in my voice."
As amazing as his 40 consecutive outs with Halladay were—36 is the all time record in real life—Brida himself was unable to score against Erik Bedard and the Pittsburgh Pirates' bullpen. He botched a squeeze play in the third inning with Freddy Galvis (called "Gonzalez" in the game because he had yet to appear in a major league game at that point), and stranded Chooch Ruiz on second in the ninth.
For eight hours at work, "All I could think about was, 'When the hell can I get out of here to go home and play MLB 2K12 again,'" Brida said.
He is convinced that he would have punched his ticket to the contest's final playoff in New York, and a shot at the million-dollar prize, with an absolutely untouchable score. The qualifying round taking place from now until April 30 will score all the perfect games thrown—and 36 were already confirmed as of Friday—judging them by an algorithm that factors in things such as the quality of the opposition, the number of strikeouts, and other influences.
One of them is pitch count. A 2K Sports representative told Kotaku on Saturday that Brida's predicted score for a 13-inning perfect game is incalculable. He would have been "heavily rewarded" for his 17 strikeouts. However, the longer he pitched, the more his score would have fallen, actually, because a lower pitch count is judged to be more effective.
2K Sports' algorithm doesn't give a bonus for extra innings because never in the 136-year history of Major League Baseball—and as far as I can tell, never in the history of any professional league, here or overseas—has someone thrown a complete perfect game longer than nine innings.
Because a perfect game is when no opposing batter reaches base against a single pitcher who pitches the entire game. No matter how long the game goes. And Brida didn't get his last man, Jose Tabata, who whacked a two-strike curveball inches wide of Halladay's mitt, for a line drive base hit up the middle.
We don't even know how the game ends because Brida stood up and punched off his Xbox 360, in the hardest-earned, most deserved ragequit of all time. The time of day is stamped on his brain: 11:37 a.m. He had to get work by noon.
"Why didn't I score that fuckin' run in the third!" he screamed, hurtling down Pennsylvania State Route 420.
For a time, Harvey Haddix's extra-innings gem, on May 26, 1959, was considered a perfect game.
Fifty-two years ago at Milwaukee, against Hank Aaron and the Braves, Haddix retired the first 36 batters of the game. But Haddix's Pittsburgh Pirates were likewise unable to score against Milwaukee's Lew Burdette. On the first batter of the bottom of the 13th, an error by Pittsburgh third baseman Don Hoak ended Haddix's perfect game. After a sacrifice, and an intentional walk to Aaron, Joe Adcock then ripped a home run for the Braves' only hit, and the win.
On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix retired 36 consecutive batters and lost. "Dear Harvey," read a letter to him from a fraternity at Texas A&M. "Tough shit." But because he had set down the first 27 men he faced, Haddix was listed as a perfect game pitcher for more than a quarter century. A scoring definition change in 1991 retroactively declared he was not.
In that year, Major League Baseball revised its record book to declare that a no-hitter was "a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit." Haddix's gem in 1959 was not grandfathered in. Twenty years ago, it became just another one-hitter.
In his Little League debut, T.J. Brida, who is now 20 years old, threw a one-hitter.
"I still have the ball," he said.
He threw his second career one-hitter on Thursday.
You can see at the end of the video above, after Brida sets the pitch with the joystick command gesture, he taps his Xbox 360 controller nervously (the game does not recognize any input during Halladay's windup and delivery). Yet T.J. Brida looks to his left and gazes down. He knows he's made a mistake.
Then Tabata blasts the ball back up the middle.
"It was an 0-2 count," Brida said, with perfect recall. "I threw a curveball that I had initially aimed down. But as soon as I pulled it down ..." he said, lingering on the thought. "It goes real quick. I had to do the motion quick."
Brida had chosen Halladay, even though he would get a lower degree-of-difficulty score with the all-star (and the cover star of MLB 2K11), because of Halladay's 99 stamina rating, which gives him a pitch count range topping out at 115. The game will occasionally remind you that your pitcher is tiring by showing a diminishing bar representing his stamina or composure. In the seventh, with the tank nearly empty, Brida struck out the side with Halladay.
"Being able to do that late in the game, with the high pitch count and the fatigue, gave me goosebumps," Brida said, "because if I could do that in the seventh inning, why not two more?"
Yet the game wore on well beyond the ninth. "Out of the whole stamina meter, he had, maybe, one-tenth of the meter," at the end, Brida said.
Brida had recognized in this game that the Pirates were waving at breaking balls low and away, and that's what he intended to throw to Tabata. In MLB 2K12, an exhausted pitcher will have a shorter time in which to complete a correct gesture on his right analog thumbstick. Deviations in the gesture lead to an ineffective pitch.
The 12-6 curveball that Halladay throws in MLB 2K12 requires a sharp southwest draw-down on the right stick and then a 315-degree winding motion counterclockwise. It is the most input-intensive command in the entire game. At this point in the game, given how far Halladay had pitched past his endurance, Brida had maybe a quarter of a second to complete it effectively. He hung the pitch.
"It went directly up the middle, you can see, it missed his glove by six inches," Brida said.
The video above, recorded on Brida's iPad, begins in the bottom of the ninth because he realized then what he had going and wanted to record it for posterity. (In this video, he edited out his batting appearances except for his final at-bat of regulation. Brida said he only got one Phillies baserunner on in extra innings.)
Because of the rules of the contest, you can't pause the video game, make substitutions or a mound visit, or anything like that. Brida waited until the Phillies were batting to set up the iPad on a desk behind him, figuring he'd eat a couple of pitches thrown by the computer if necessary. He couldn't do it in an inning in which he was in the field because if you linger on the mound for longer than ten seconds, the game considers that as good as a pause and disqualifies you from the perfect game contest.
You know you're disqualified when that "$1 Million Perfect Game Challenge" logo disappears from the lower left of the screen. In this video, it never does. Not until Tabata singles with one out in the 14th inning, and Brida punches the power button, and the screen goes dark.
In 2010, an Alabama accountant named Wade McGilberry came home from work, made a sandwich, set down 27 straight New York Mets, and paid off the house by playing MLB 2K. In 2011, a Louisiana music teacher named Brian Kingrey retired 27 Houston Astros and bought a new car.
T.J. Brida got 13 more outs than those guys, and he's living with his folks. He went 13 perfect innings and is still driving a Kia.
[The writer extends his personal thanks to Jason Fanelli for this story tip.]