Baseball is a weird and random game. That's one of the things that makes it so appealing to those of us that truly love it. I've been to hundreds of games throughout my life at ballparks all across the country and I've seen some wild games. I've seen triple plays, memorable walk-offs, and multiple no-hitters. Yet, I've never caught a foul ball or home run. Sometimes, the game just doesn't make any sense.
The happenstance nature of the game was never more apparent than on a cool, sunny day in Seattle 10 years ago today. I had traveled to the Pacific Northwest to see then-Safeco Field for the first time on my tour of Major League ballparks.
The White Sox opened up a three-game weekend set with a nice victory over the Mariners led by a strong performance from a young hurler named Chris Sale. You may have heard of him, but he was a relatively unknown commodity from a starting pitching standpoint back then. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that random Saturday would play out the way it did.
Setting The Scene
The Sox would be sending Philip Humber to the mound in Game 2 of the series against the M's. Humber was making just his second start of the young season. The then-29-year-old was coming off a solid first season in a White Sox uniform having pitched 163 innings of 3.75 ERA, 3.58 FIP ball for the vastly underachieving 2011 Sox.
Humber was a No. 3 overall pick of the New York Mets in the 2004 MLB Draft out of powerhouse Rice University in Houston, Texas. But the righty never found his footing in New York as he was part of the infamous deal that sent famed White Sox killer Johan Santana to the Big Apple following the 2007 season.
Humber struggled in a Twins uniform, bouncing from the rotation to the bullpen and never truly being able to hold down a roster spot. He came to the White Sox in 2011 and things seemed to click. After his solid initial showing in 2011, there was a mixture of skepticism and optimism about whether he was just a placeholder for a Sox team that, honestly, wasn't expected to contend that season.
In his second start of the year on April 21, the baseball world saw something that had only happened 20 times previously in its existence.
The game started out relatively unassuming with Paul Konerko blasting a Blake Beavan offering for a solo homer in the top of the second. The White Sox followed up with two more in the third inning to jump out to a 3-0 lead. Philip Humber quietly took the mound and made quick work of the Mariners lineup once staked to that early cushion. Nobody really thought much of anything as the Safeco crowd was relatively laid back on this sun-drenched afternoon. By the bottom of the sixth inning, the mood started to shift.
I remember turning to look at the scoreboard and seeing the mountain of zeros that filled the Mariners' offensive stats lines. It had dawned on me what was happening in that moment. Five years and three days earlier, I was in attendance to watch my favorite pitcher of all-time, Mark Buehrle, twirl his no-hitter against the Texas Rangers. But surely I wouldn't be lucky enough to travel all the way across the country and see another one, right?
With each subsequent out, the crowd became more enthralled with every move Humber made on the mound. By the time the eighth inning rolled around, there was no denying what was at stake. Humber had retired the first 21 hitters of the game and was now staring immortality in the face. Through eight innings, Humber was on cruise control, not even authoring a single three-ball count. He was now three outs away from destiny. All that stood in his way was a trio of Michael Saunders, John Jaso, and Munenori Kawasaki.
3 Outs to Glory
The mood in the ballpark was tense as you could feel the eyes of the baseball world on the Emerald City. Saunders stepped to the plate and Humber uncharacteristically fell behind the lefty hitter before inducing a strikeout. Jaso went down next on a soft fly ball to right field.
26 up and 26 down, just one man standing in the way of the rarest of baseball feats.
Kawasaki was called back to the bench in favor of right-handed-hitting utility infielder Brendan Ryan. Humber quickly fell behind 3-0 as it appeared his quest for history would be thwarted by the moment. However, he composed himself and worked back to a full count.
One pitch, just one pitch, to have his name etched in the history books forever.
Humber wound up and had the stones to throw a 3-2 slider with a perfect game on the line. Veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski blocked the slider in the dirt as if his life depended on it while first base umpire Marvin Hudson signaled that Ryan had gone around too far on his check swing attempt, much to the pinch-hitter's dismay. Pierzynski tracked the ball down and fired to Paul Konerko.
In that moment, it was almost as if time stood still.
Konerko secured the ball in his glove, Humber fell to his knees, and the White Sox dugout rushed the field as if they had won the World Series.
Philip Humber, the most unlikely of heroes, had authored just the 21st perfect game in the history of baseball.
An amazing roar came over the Safeco crowd in that moment. Mariners fans stood and applauded what they had just seen because they understood the gravity of the situation. Although they were on the wrong side of the ledger, they were in attendance to witness one of the greatest moments in the history of baseball.
Following Philip Humber's perfecto, he would almost immediately come back down to Earth. In his next start against the Boston Red Sox, he surrendered nine earned runs and three home runs. Sadly, that outing was just a harbinger of things to come. Humber closed out the remainder of the year pitching 87.2 innings of 7.39 ERA ball before being DFA'd by the White Sox. He simply could never recreate the magic of that fateful Saturday afternoon in Seattle.
Humber's story is one of the most improbable in all of baseball history. The blue-chip prospect who failed with the team that drafted him became a piece of a deal to acquire a superstar, only to become a journeyman.
But one day, Humber showed that in the game of baseball anything can happen to just about anyone. No one in their right mind would've believed you if you told them before April 12, 2012, that Philip Humber would throw a perfect game. Having been there to witness it, looking back a decade later I still can't believe it.
The randomness of this great game never ceases to amaze me. You can't predict getting on a plane and traveling across the country only to see something that had only happened 20 times in over 150 years of organized baseball. Yet, there I was on that day. I look back 10 years later and still shake my head that I was able to witness it. It's one of those great baseball moments that I'll always remember.
Philip Humber's career probably didn't turn out how he envisioned, but he will always have that day for the rest of his life. A day where he did nothing wrong. A day where was perfect as so few had been before him.