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All Philip Humber wanted in Seattle on Saturday was his first win of the season. It didn’t matter how it came, as long as he got that first one out of the way.
Two hours and 17 minutes and 96 pitches later, the stunned 29-year-old White Sox right hander dropped to his knees in front of the pitcher’s mound and shortly found himself at the bottom of an overjoyed dogpile, as he had just become only the 21st pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game, following a 4-0 win over the Seattle Mariners.
Not even a month into the 2012 campaign and baseball has already seen its first perfect game or no hitter of the season.
You’d have to look back almost two years to recall the last time baseball a perfect game took place – Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay on May 29, 2010 at Florida.
“I don’t even know what to say,” said Humber. “I don’t know what Philip Humber is doing in this list. No idea what my name is doing there, but I’m thankful it’s there.”
Humber, who was drafted in 2004 by the New York Mets with the third overall pick, finally lived up to one of the many high expectations that made him a key component in the 2008 blockbuster deal that sent two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana to New York. He is now the third White Sox pitcher to ever throw a perfect game, and the first since Mark Buehrle tossed his back on July 23, 2009.
The perfecto by Humber also gives the White Sox a grand total of 18 no hitters during their existence.
To say that it had been somewhat of a rough road leading up to this point for Humber might qualify as the understatement of the year. Tommy John surgery was necessary shortly after being drafted and a combination of significant Major League struggles and a number of trips between there and Triple A prohibited him from winning his first big league game until 2010 with the Kansas City Royals.
In his first full Major League season last year with Chicago he posted a 9-9 record with a 3.75 ERA in 26 starts.
Humber was absolutely dealing from start to finish. In fact, he did not encounter a three ball count until Mariners center fielder Michael Saunders was ahead 3-0 to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Regaining his composure, Humber came back to strike out Saunders for the first out of the inning.
John Jaso flew out to right for the second out, and before Humber knew it, he was just one batter away from perfection. The only thing that stood between he and baseball immortality was pinch hitter Brendan Ryan, who worked the count to 3-2.
The payoff pitch was a slider well off the plate low and away that Ryan attempted to check his swing at, but the home plate umpire made the call himself and ruled that Ryan had swung. The ball rolled past catcher A.J. Pierzynski momentarily, as Ryan argued the umpire’s call. Ryan was unable to make it halfway down the line by the time Pierzynski gobbled up the ball and lasered it down to first for the 27th out.
And then it was party time.
“I saw it get away from A.J. and saw the umpire ring him up and at that point, a ton of emotions and a lot of joy and excitement,” Humber said. “Most of all, just gratitude. Just thankful for where I’m at.”
With nine strikeouts on the day, a nasty slider like the final pitch was Humber’s bread and butter. Humber’s 96 pitches was the least thrown in a perfect game since former Yankee David Cone’s 88 on July 18, 1999 against the Montreal Expos.
“I was more nervous than I was in the World Series,” said Pierzynski. “There was no build up for this; it just happened. And you want it so bad for the guy on the mound and you want him to have that achievement forever and you want to have him remembered forever. It’s a special thing that Phil did.”
Image Courtesy of White Sox