Dallas Braden struck out B.J. Upton to end the top of the eighth inning Sunday, and catcher Landon Powell jogged back to the dugout, ball in hand. On most days, he would have idly flipped it into the stands. But not on this day. Not with a perfect game in progress. Powell took the ball and stuffed it into a hat in his equipment bag -- just in case.
And an hour later, that ball, Powell's glove and other mementos from the game were authenticated for history, as the pitcher and catcher happily stood by, after the 19th perfect game in history.
"I've been playing with him since '04," Powell said, as he drove away from the park. "The second game I caught in pro ball, he was pitching. I've probably called 70 or 80 games with him -- more than any other pitcher. And it's really cool for him to be the guy to have this happen to."
Powell and Braden are different in background and personality -- Powell grew up in North Carolina, Braden in California -- and to Powell, Braden was "definitely different. He's not scared to tell you how he feels. ... He can be kind of an in-your-face, abrasive guy.
"But after I got to know him, I saw that he was a guy who will have your back no matter what. He keeps things loose, and he's a good guy, and he's got a good heart."
And, Powell discovered, he is not afraid. Powell was headed out to stretch before Sunday's game and he mentioned to Braden that Ben Sheets had had a lot of success against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday by pitching inside with his fastball -- in and off the plate, about six inches. This seemed to open up the outer half of the plate for Sheets, and Powell theorized it might work this way for Braden, as well, because the left-hander's best pitch is a changeup.
Once the game started, Braden also was throwing his slider for first-pitch strikes, which prevented the Rays, one of the best-hitting teams in the majors and a team that will look to do damage on the first pitch, from just attacking his stuff.
In the midst of the game, Braden and plate umpire Jim Wolf were exchanging baseballs, flipping them to each other -- and the balls hit in midair and fell to the ground. "We could never do that again if we tried," Powell said to the umpire, and they both laughed.
The next inning, Wolf and Rays pitcher James Shields exchanged baseballs -- and the exact same thing happened, both balls falling to the ground. Wolf turned and pointed to Powell in the Oakland dugout, grinning: Can you believe that? Powell raised his hands in the air, laughing. Strange stuff was happening.
Powell will sometimes chat with Braden between innings to talk about a plan for a hitter coming up in the next inning, if something hasn't gone right earlier in the game. But everything was going well, and so Powell kept his distance in the dugout, knowing, of course, that every batter in the early innings had been retired.
Jason Bartlett led off the top of the seventh for the Rays and smashed a line drive to left field, and internally, Powell winced, thinking this might be the first hit. But the ball was hit almost directly at left fielder Eric Patterson; it's the type of play that makes you wonder if fate was working for Braden, Powell thought.
Braden, pitching with the pace of Mark Buehrle, kept getting the ball back and firing it. The Rays' hitters weren't saying anything as they came to the plate. Powell could see determination in their faces, focus. Evan Longoria flied out to center field to start the eighth, and then Carlos Pena fouled out to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who made a long run to make a nice catch at the lip of the dugout. Upton struck out. Three outs to go.
Willy Aybar hit a soft liner to first base to open the ninth inning; by this time, Powell found himself wincing every time a Rays hitter swung the bat, out of fear that maybe this would be the swing that would ruin perfection. Dioner Navarro, like Bartlett, hit a line drive to left -- right at Patterson.
Twenty-six outs in the book. As Powell stepped back to his position to get into a crouch, he made eye contact with Wolf. Both men were thinking the same thing; nobody was going to mention it, though.
Gabe Kapler came to the plate, having had the best at-bat against Braden on the day -- a 12-pitch marathon back at the end of the sixth inning. Powell settled in at his position.
The season had been trying so far for Landon Powell. He hadn't made the Athletics' opening day roster, a major disappointment, and then after getting called up early in the season, he was sent back down after a couple of days -- and then recalled again, in the aftermath of Kurt Suzuki's injury. Now, in this moment, he was one out away from joining the likes of Yogi Berra and Jorge Posada in the ranks of catchers who had caught a perfect game.
Kapler dug in, and patiently waited for Braden to throw him strikes. The count ran to three balls and one strike -- only the third time in the entire game that a Tampa Bay hitter had worked himself into a hitter's count of two balls and no strikes or 3-1.
Powell put down a sign for a fastball, Braden threw it -- and Kapler grounded sharply toward shortstop, and in an instant Braden had his right arm around first baseman Daric Barton and his left arm around Powell, and looked directly at his catcher. "Oh my God!" Braden screamed. "Oh my God!"
A couple of hours later, Powell was driving home with his wife Allyson and talking about what a crazy season it had been. The catcher's glove he used, well, he's thinking about retiring that and never using that again. "It can't do much better than that," he said.
He was thinking about, too, how he'll be able to tell his kids -- and maybe someday, his kids' kids -- about this afternoon that he'd shared in baseball history. "You never know," Powell said, "what life is going to bring."
• After the media had left the clubhouse, Dallas Braden shared the moment with the five clubhouse kids and the batboys who were sitting on a table. He had been given a bottle of champagne, and he ran up to those guys shaking it, and sprayed it on them, yelling at the top of his lungs. They all laughed together.
• From Lee Singer of ESPN Stats & Information, why Braden threw a perfect game:
He let his fielders do the work. Braden induced only five missed swings all game, the lowest total of the past nine no-hitters, and his six strikeouts is tied for the third-lowest total of the other 18 perfect games in MLB history.
He threw strikes. He threw 63.3 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, the highest percentage of his seven starts this season. Braden went to a 2-0 count only once all game (Jason Bartlett leading off the seventh inning, who lined out to left field on the next pitch).