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White Sox Mon Apr 23 2012
On a sunny Saturday in Seattle, with two outs in the bottom of ninth, Philip Humber went to the slider to finish off his perfect game.
It was the biggest pitch of Humber's life, and it worked. Pinch hitter Brendan Ryan struck out on a check swing, the ball briefly escaping A.J. Pierzynski, and after a throw down to first to clinch the out, Humber dropped to his knees and his White Sox teammates mobbed him.
When the 29-year-old right-hander left the field a few moments later, the Seattle crowd gave him a warm standing ovation. It was quite a moment.
Humber's 4-0 masterpiece was a prime example of why baseball is so great. Who would guess that a mid-April game between two near-.500 teams' starting No. 5 pitchers in a half-full stadium would be deemed anything close to memorable?
Humber was, well, perfect on Saturday. He overpowered the Mariners, racking up nine strikeouts and inducing a number of weak pop-ups and fly balls. Humber was locating his pitches flawlessly, getting Seattle hitters to swing at junk in the dirt and hitting the mid-90s on the gun even into the seventh inning.
There were only two close calls: Dustin Ackley smashed one to right field in the fourth, but Alex Rios made a nice leaping catch; and in the seventh, Chone Figgins hit a rocket down the first base line, but it went foul. Even Munenori Kawasaki's totally bush league bunt in the sixth was fielded cleanly by Humber for the out.
Basically, the perfection was no accident.
But back to the uniqueness of baseball. No other team sport really has random, meaningful historic single game performances. For example, the NBA has two major achievements, the ultra-rare quadruple-double and a 60-point game. Everyone who has gotten a quadruple-double or has scored 60 points are hall of famers (or sure-thing future hall of famers) except Alvin Robertson, Tom Chambers, Bernard King and Gilbert Arenas. Even then, all those players made multiple all-star appearances. Essentially, this means that it is impossible for Alonzo Gee to score 60 points or for Ersan Ilyasova to record double-digits in four categories tonight. Just won't happen.
For pro football and hockey, none of their single game achievements are that well known or recognized. Just last year, Johan Franzen scored a rare five goals in one game. I didn't know that until I looked it up just now. I missed any sort of hype around that (and all I watch is ESPN). Football's big accomplishment is the single-game rushing record, and the feat is like basketball in terms of talented players breaking it -- O.J. Simpson, Walter Payton and Adrian Peterson have all held the record at one point. A player in a mid-October Browns-Seahawks game, more than likely, will not have a record game.
In baseball, anything could happen on any given day. In the perfect game category, not only have hall of famers like Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter and Cy Young retired all 27 batters, but guys like Mike Witt, Len Barker, Tom Browning and Dallas Braden are on the list, too. Some see the perfect game's meaning in decline with non-stars hurling them, but I see it as pleasant surprises, where there's always the possibility that one pitcher can catch fire and have the game of his life, no matter who he is. His stuff, at least for nine innings, will be perfect.
And it's not just perfect games in baseball. Hitters have their own version of a perfect game, which is a four-home run game. There are also feats like a 20-strikeout game, a no-hitter and hitting for the cycle. Every time I watch a game, I always keep these potential occurrences in the back of my mind, because there is a chance (albeit a small one) that I may see history. And it doesn't matter what teams are playing and who is out on the field.
Not surprisingly, no one saw Humber's gem coming. The man has bounced around, pitching for the Mets, Twins, Royals and Sox throughout his seven-year career. Paul Konerko provided the best thoughts on the game: Before Sunday's series finale, Konerko turned to Humber in the clubhouse and said, "Just think, Philip. Yesterday, you were sitting here getting ready for the game. Today, you're going to have a display in the Hall of Fame."
It only happens in baseball.