Commentary

Philip Humber a perfect surprise

The White Sox right-hander became the 21st man to throw a perfect game

Originally Published: April 21, 2012
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

When White Sox starter Philip Humber threw the 96th and final pitch of a game that would leave him among an elite club that includes Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter and Roy Halladay, he immediately thought: "Oh, that's way outside. Hopefully it won't go to the backstop."

Fortunately, Seattle pinch hitter Brendan Ryan was up there hacking, figuring that with a perfect game on the line, anything close on the 3-2 pitch might be called a strike. So he began his swing, then tried to check it because the pitch was so outside it bounced away from White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Home plate umpire Brian Runge instantly ruled that Ryan's bat had crossed the plate for strike three rather than ball four.

Pierzynski chased the ball down and threw to first base for the out to preserve the perfect game. The catcher said his only thought at the time was, "Get the ball and get it to first base as fast as possible because if I screw this up I'm going to be a goat forever."

[+] EnlargePhil Humber
Steven Bisig/US PresswirePhil Humber made perfection look easy against the Mariners on Saturday.

He didn't screw it up, so at the age of 29 Humber achieved one of pitching's most elusive achievements despite entering the game with an 11-10 career record and a 4.06 ERA with five different franchises. Now he is the 21st pitcher in major league history to throw a perfect game (and the fourth since 2009).

"I saw that on TV when I was in the clubhouse and like I said earlier, I don't know what my name is doing on that list," Humber said. "It's just so humbling. I'm so thankful. It's an awesome feeling. People are telling me, 'You have to send this or this' to the Hall of Fame. I've been to the Hall of Fame and I've seen the stuff that's there. And now to think something of mine is going to be there is pretty awesome."

Humber is the second White Sox pitcher to throw a perfect game in the past four years -- Mark Buehrle pitched one in 2009, when center fielder DeWayne Wise saved it with a home run-robbing catch in the ninth inning. With a great slider working, Humber didn't need any such amazing defense -- he struck out nine and few Mariners hit the ball hard. He didn't throw three balls to a batter until the ninth.

"I think the only hard-hit ball was Dustin Ackley's line drive in the fourth," Pierzynski said. "Other than that it was a lot of strikeouts and popups and weak groundballs. The only luck was Brendan Ryan swung at a 3-2 slider."

[+] EnlargePhil Humber
Steven Bisig/US PresswireSomewhere in this celebration was White Sox pitcher Philip Humber, who recorded the 21st perfect game in history in Seattle on Saturday.

Or did he? Although Runge ruled that Ryan went around with the swing, it appears in the replay Ryan successfully checked. Ryan argued with Runge -- to no avail. Runge stood by his call and the White Sox were already piling on Humber on the mound. "I felt Jake Peavy on my back and I was like, 'Get up, I can't breathe,'" Humber said with a grin.

Facing a thick wall of reporters at his locker, Ryan said he would have no comment on the final pitch and then praised Humber for his performance, talking about his great slider and "A-plus-plus stuff." When this was met with a brief silence, Ryan said, "Everyone wants to talk about the checked swing, huh?"

Well, since you brought it up ...

"The closer they get, the more borderline things may go (the pitcher's way)," Ryan said. "Because that's just the way things go. I just wanted to be more aggressive."

When someone mentioned that Humber's reaction to the pitch looked as if he thought he had just thrown ball four, Ryan said, "It was, it was." He paused and quickly added, "Hmm, I don't want to finish that.

"When you're in that situation, you have to be a little more aggressive to anything around the plate," Ryan continued. "I mean, that's just the way it has to be. The fans want to see it. So anything that's kind of gray, you have to at least get a piece of."

[+] EnlargePhil Humber
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBetween innings, Philip Humber had time to think about what he was doing.

Pierzynski said that despite the possibility of ball four ruining the perfect game, he didn't think about calling for a fastball. "No. I'm not going to lie because I'm really selfish and I at least wanted the no-hitter and if he walked him, he walked him," he said. "It was his best pitch and we're going down with it. ...

"I knew if we threw it close, he would swing, because in that situation, you want to get a hit, you don't want to walk."

Humber said his first phone call after the game was to his wife, who is nine months pregnant and due to deliver a son in two weeks, just to make sure she didn't go into labor from excitement. "He's ready to go. He's getting close," Humber said.

Humber had been traded once as part of the Johan Santana deal, let go once and claimed off waivers twice -- the second time when the White Sox picked him up in January 2011. He pitched well in his only previous start this season but Chicago also skipped him in the rotation due to a rainout. He is 10-9 with a 3.50 ERA since joining the Sox and says one reason he's pitching better is that his focusing is less "about me" and more about his faith.

"My identity was as a baseball player," he said. "How I evaluated myself was my stat line. If my stat line was great I felt good about myself. If it wasn't then I didn't feel so good. It took me a long time to figure it isn't about me, or us. Whatever we do, we should be doing to glorify God. I'm not saying I'll always be successful for that attitude or always have a good game, but I will be a more joyful person."

And the irony is, he wound up with a pretty good stat line Saturday.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com