Of the thousands of stories I wrote while covering 5,000 or so MLB games during a 40-year sports writing career, none were perfect.
But none of the games I covered were “perfect” games. At some point during each and every one of those games, someone reached base via a walk, hit, error, catcher’s interference or hit-by-pitch.
Heck, I never even saw a “perfect” game in one of those spring training drills former Mariners manager Mike Hargrove had during camp in Peoria, Ariz. The Mariners came close a few times, but never retired 27 consecutive batters.
So it was with much anticipation on Saturday afternoon when I – along with millions of others – tuned into FOX and watched White Sox right-hander Philip Humber pitch the ninth inning against the Mariners in Seattle.
I was nervous just watching the ninth inning unfold and I could only imagine how his nerves were doing.
Humber fell behind the leadoff batter, Michael Saunders, 3-and-0 but came back to strike him out on a wicked slider. A routine fly ball to right field recorded the second out, and 26 consecutive batters in a row had been retired. No runs, no hits, no nothing for the Mariners.
Humber was one out away from history – the 21st perfect game in MLB history.
Philip Humber? I had never heard of him – until this afternoon. Now, he will be etched in my brain forever. Perfect games are so rare, you remember them forever.
The perfecto came down to Phil Humber versus pinch-hitter Brandan Ryan.
Finally, on a pitch that was so far outside that there isn’t a hitter alive who could touch it, Ryan made a check-swing and didn’t come close to making contact. Everyone near the plate missed it. Ryan missed the ball. So did catcher A.J. Pierzynksi. But the plate umpire, Brian Runge, immediately signaled that Ryan had gone around.
The Sox catcher retrieved the ball and made an accurate throw to first base for the 27th consecutive out of the game.
A perfect game!
As the late, great Dave Niehaus would have said, “My oh My.”
“What just took place was just awesome,” Humber said, after the probable once-in-a-lifetime game.
Philip Humber? Who is that?
Before Saturday, he was best known as one of four prospects the Mets traded to Minnesota for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana in February 2008. That’s no longer the case — not after tossing the first no-hitter of the Major League Baseball season and the second April perfect game in MLB history.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Humber said. “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.”
It is there with the likes of Hall of Fame pitchers Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Cy Young and Cy Young. Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Randy Johnson had one perfect game among his five no-hitters, but Nolan Ryan, the king no-hitters, never pitched a perfect game.
I was fortunate to cover two no-hitters – Charlie Lea against the Giants on May 10, 1981 and Dwight Gooden on May 14, 1996 at Yankee Stadium – the Doc’s final hurrah in a career of incredible highs and remarkable lows.
But what I remember most about that game was Baltimore Sun columnist Pete Schmuck – one of the finest baseball scribes around – traveled to New York by train to interview Ken Griffey Jr. for a story that would appear in Peter’s paper the following day – before the Mariners opened a series against the Orioles.
Schmuck had a return train reservation that forced him to leave the stadium after the fifth inning. By the time he walked into the sports department, the Mariners’-Yankees game had ended.
“How many hits to Junior have?,’” Schmuck asked one of the desk workers. “I want to update my story.”
“Junior didn’t have any hits,” the deskman responded. “But neither did anyone else from Seattle.”
Peter had tough time living that one down. But that’s the beauty of the game. When you least expect something like a no-hitter or perfect game to happen, it happens.
Mr. Humber joined the club on Saturday.
“I was more nervous than I was in the World Series,” Pierzysnki said. “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.”
Humber fell to his knees when it was over, and his teammates rushed toward the mound to congratulate him.
“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, it’s just gratitude. Just thankful for where I’m at.”
On top of the baseball world.