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Hugo Chavez salutes Tigers' Armando Galarraga

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Armando Galarraga a "tremendous pitcher" Sunday and praised him for his sportsmanship after an umpire's blown call robbed him of a perfect game.

Chavez called for a round of applause for the Venezuelan pitcher during his weekly TV and radio program, saying "everyone knows he pitched a perfect game."

"From here we salute Armando," Chavez said.

The Detroit Tigers pitcher has won wide praise for his grace following the botched call Wednesday with two outs in the ninth inning against Cleveland.

Chavez added that first-base umpire Jim Joyce was "noble" for having apologized to the pitcher in tears.

"The umpire was wrong ... but, well, the umpire is the umpire," the president said.

Galarraga, in Venezuela's professional league, plays for the Leones de Caracas, the bitter rival of Chavez's favorite team, the Navegantes del Magallanes. Chavez joked that Galarraga should switch teams and concluded: "No one is perfect."

Chavez is a die-hard baseball fan who grew up dreaming of pitching in the major leagues. He recalled that years ago he was pitching to his mentor, Fidel Castro of Cuba. The umpire awarded Castro a walk when Chavez was sure he struck him out.

Chavez also recalled striking out Dominican slugger Sammy Sosa once in a 1999 exhibition game in Caracas. Sosa, it should be noted, also hit multiple home runs.