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Humber takes long road to baseball immortality


Philip Humber might be the least likely pitcher to throw a perfect game this side of Charlie Brown.

He's kicked around from the Mets to the Twins to the Royals to the Athletics to the White Sox all since 2007, line drives through the box threatening to undress him all along the trail as if he was some kind of Charles Schultz creation.

In 29 major league starts, until Saturday, the 2004 Mets first-round pick had never thrown a complete game.

In 120 minor league starts, he had mustered only four complete games.

Then, on the third Saturday of the 2012 season, he met the Seattle Mariners.

"I can't even put it into words," Humber said on the FOX national television broadcast after authoring only the 21st perfect game in major-league history, and first since Philadelphia's Roy Halladay buzzsawed the Marlins on May 29, 2010.

Give him the rest of the summer and he still might be rifling through the English language attempting to put some sort of description together.

Philip Gregory Humber.

One L in Philip.

One L in remarkable.

One huge and unlikely splash into major league history.

At 29, Humber had been up, down and all around before settling in with the White Sox last year and meeting the Mariners on Saturday. Take his time in Oakland. Blink and you missed it. The A's claimed him off waivers from Kansas City on Dec. 17, 2010. Then they ran him through waivers a month later, and lost him when the White Sox claimed Humber on Jan. 18.

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Chicago's gain.

He went 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA for the White Sox last summer, in what became his first major-league season. Talk about belated staying power. The Mets picked him third overall in the '04 draft. A fella by the name of Justin Verlander also went in that draft, just ahead of Humber, No. 2 overall.

While Verlander was pitching the Tigers toward the 2006 World Series, Humber spent that summer coming back from Tommy John surgery with the Gulf Coast League Mets ... then at Class A St. Lucie ... Double A Binghamton ... and, finally, he worked in two games for the Mets at season's end.

By the time he was shipped to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade in February, 2008, Humber had started just one game in the bigs.

With the Sox last summer, he finally put things together over the season's first half, holding opposing hitters to a .218 batting average and .275 on-base percentage. Then the line drives started coming back at him through the box. Those numbers inflated to .287 and .328 in the season's second half. He won just one game after the All-Star break.

But making it through his first full season was something. We all find our rhythm on our own timetable. Not everybody is a quick starter. Even if you turn out not to be a phenom, talent plus grit eventually make for a few breaks.

So it was that Humber was primed for what would become, easily, the biggest moment of his career.

Granted, the Mariners are to offense what a freezer is to a side of beef. They ranked last in the majors in runs scored in 2011. Entering Saturday's game, they ranked 13th in the American League -- of 14 teams -- in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Safeco Field is where rallies go to die, and the Mariners' prints usually are all over the murder weapon.

But that's not to take anything away from Humber. How many other two-bit lineups has he faced on dimly lit, dusty minor-league fields and struggled? How many times at the major league level has he faced opponents not named the Yankees or Rangers and still sweated through them?

The guy was sensational Saturday. The Mariners never had a chance. The White Sox didn't need DeWayne Wise to save the day, like he did with that incredible leaping catch at the wall when Mark Buehrle fired the last White Sox perfect game back in 2009, on July 23.

No, Humber blitzed through the first eight innings on 80 pitches. He had only three three-ball counts all afternoon, two of those in the ninth -- including going 3 and 0 to outfielder Michael Saunders to start the inning.

"When you have a four-run lead, you don't want to walk the leadoff guy no matter what the situation," Humber said. "I felt myself overthrowing."

You couldn't blame the poor guy. It's not as if he's known the lay of the land in many ninth innings, let alone one as tense as this.

He deflected a lot of the credit to catcher A.J. Pierzynski for calling a terrific game and blocking some balls in the dirt. He gave shout-outs to left fielder Brent Lillibridge and right fielder Alex Rios for making good plays.

But mostly, this one was on Humber. What an afternoon. What a game.

What a moment.

Humber's wife is nine months pregnant, due to deliver a little boy any minute.

"There are so many good things happening right now," Humber said.

There sure are.

Can you believe the White Sox skipped his first start this season to keep their other four starters on turn?

Saturday, it was time for John Danks, Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd and Chris Sale to salute him.


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