Jim Joyce, the best-known umpire on the planet right at the moment, was at the Detroit airport yesterday. Strangers kept walking up and patting him on the back. Not exactly the reaction you'd expect, considering that his mistaken call at first had cost Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game some 36 hours earlier.
As fate would have it, the boarding pass he was holding was for Philadelphia, where he worked third base during last night's Padres-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park. And, wouldn't you know? Roy Halladay was making his first start since pitching his perfect game Saturday night in Florida.
That play in the Tigers-Indians game could have been a real stain on baseball history. Instead, Joyce's class and candor in acknowledging he blew the call and the grace and sportsmanship exhibited by Galarraga and the Tigers organization has turned this into an uplifting saga that transcends sports.
Joyce, standing a few feet away from the umpire's room last night, still can't believe it.
"What's the next level from astounded? This has been absolutely phenomenal," he said. "For some reason, an ugly situation has turned into a very big positive. And I couldn't be more thankful.
"I believe this happened for a reason. I'm trying to figure out what the reason is, but I think it's playing out . . . It's kind of cool that a bad thing turns into a good thing."
Joyce spoke on the phone yesterday with umpire Don Denkinger, whose missed call at first base helped cost the St. Louis Cardinals the 1985 World Series. Denkinger is still remembered for that call more than anything.
"I said, 'Sorry,' " Joyce said. "It opened up that whole can of worms for him again. His took the dark path. I hope this is not going to be my legacy. I hope I'm not talked about as that guy. But it's fallen on me, and I did what I did, and I'm going to have to accept whatever history gives me."
Polly wanna play
The worst part was the helpless feeling that came with sitting and watching, wanting to help, not being able to help. So Placido Polanco told manager Charlie Manuel he was ready to play last night, even though he estimated that the sore elbow that had sidelined him for six games and led to a cortisone shot was only at 85 to 90 percent.
"It was a very long week," said Polanco, who returned to his familiar second spot in the batting order. "It feels better than before, without a doubt. Not being available, not being able to do anything. If we had been winning . . . "
But they weren't winning. They went 2-4 and scored 11 runs in his absence.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. provided updates on the remaining injured players. Reliever Ryan Madson and shortstop Jimmy Rollins were at the park yesterday.
Madson (broken right big toe): "Got his pins out, and now it's just a progression of weight-bearing stuff. His arm's in great shape. He's been throwing quite a bit. He's out to 150 feet. He hasn't thrown off a slant." He isn't eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until June 28.
Rollins (strained calf): "Will be working with us throughout the homestand. Hopefully by the end of the homestand, we'll be thinking about getting him out on a rehab. We want to make sure he's healthy, but he's progressing pretty well and starting to do more baseball activities."
Lefthander J.A. Happ (forearm strain): "Threw very well [in extended spring on Thursday]. His velocity [87 to 88 mph] was pretty good for the first time out and, more importantly, he felt very comfortable and threw all his pitches."
Happ is expected to make his first official rehab start Tuesday and pitch three innings for Class A Clearwater. *