Baseball is nuts. We address it all the time in analyzing statistics and single occurrences, that there's a ton of random variation, and anything can happen. But Philip Humber--Philip Humber, the 5th starter, the guy who was just holding down the fort till Peavy got back last season, the guy whose turn in the rotation was skipped last week--throwing a perfect game hammers that idea home as much as anything else ever could. There's something unimaginable waiting in the wings at all times in this sport.
That conveys the wonder, but sells short the performance. Before it all came together, before the final out, and the bizarre ending, and the scrambling to put this all in context, the primary takeaway from Saturday's game against the Mariners was that Philip Humber was absolutely on his game.
Humber's success has often been used as a testament to Don Cooper's greatness, in a way that's not especially flattering to him personally, and at best typifies him as the marble from which the master pitching coach sculpted his latest work. It's been so many years since he was first coming out of Rice University, and there's no way to ever ascertain what a fully realized Philip Humber was supposed to look like, or was envisioned to be when he was a top prospect, but it would have to have looked a little something like this.
His most dominant offering (on a day where they were all pretty good) wasn't the Cooper-taught slider for once, but the big, snapping curveball Humber came out of college with. He had immaculate control of the slider all day, but it was the curve that generated 7 swings-and-misses. When he needed heat, his many-times-surgically-repaired arm reared back and found 94 mph on multiple occasions. He threw all his offspeed pitches for strikes. He looked like the real deal. (That said, this is right up there with Matt Thornton on the list of Cooper's greatest successes)
Which was great to see, because what we--White Sox fans--have been privy to for some time, and will now become the centerpiece of every national profile written about him for the next week, is that Humber has long since been counted out. He was dealt off in package by the Mets, who once took him 3rd overall, declared a bust in Minnesota, and making the waiver wire rounds, failing to stick with teams that needed pitching when the White Sox took a flier on. He was beginning to become one of those guys you wonder about--how frustrating must it be for them? To be continually humbled? To be a shell of their former selves?
It's not like the Sox were particularly confident in Humber at the start of the 2011, so when his meteoric rise began last season, and he emerged as a fringe All-Star Game candidate, Humber fittingly sounded like someone who had long since set aside delusions of grandeur.
“I don’t really have any comment on that (the All-Star game). I’m just thankful for the results so far.”
So as far as prototypical underdog, rags-from-riches, 1st round bust redemption, hard-work-beating-long-odds stories still have a hold on us, Philip Humber's Saturday achievement was inspiring. And the outpouring of affection from his teammates goes along with every ideal we'd want to believe about this turn of events.
"I was shaking, because you don't get the opportunity to be in that situation very often with the way Phil was pitching, what it would mean to him and his family and his career," Pierzynski said. "It's just amazing, and I'm still in shock and just so happy for Phil, and just kind of speechless right now."
"This is the biggest thrill I've had in baseball in my career," he said. "I was a little nervous by the end of the game, but it was worth it."
— Brent Lillibridge (@BSLillibridge) April 21, 2012
Which is to say nothing of Chris Sale jumping over the railing before the final play was even over, Jake Peavy performing a textbook football tackle of Humber in the dogpile, and Alexei Ramirez celebrating and/or attempting murder by dumping Gatorade on Humber's head while he was interviewing with a headset on.
It was as perfect of a moment as one can hope to get out of a single baseball season.
So about that final call, which threatens to mar the entire affair with controversy. Brendan Ryan appeared to be at the absolute border of checking up his swing on Humber's wild low and away. His furious reaction, and FOX's curious and inexplicable refusal to air a comprehensive replay only heightened the sense of foul play, and that the wheels had been greased to enable this accomplishment.
This frame posted over at South Side Sox, is at least enough to establish that it was extremely close, and not one of the great umpire screw-ups of all-time, but it's unfortunate to have a pall to be cast on this at all. Since there's already the caveat of the Mariners offense in Safeco Field to deal with. The cover-up is always worse than the controversy.
There's another game today, the baseball schedule will relentlessly chug on like it always does, and we will have to move on despite the feeling that there should be more time spent on this idyllic Saturday afternoon, or more words spent in awe of this remarkable accomplishment that while only slightly over two hours long, was such a long time coming.
The only real consolation to take is that we can watch it again.