Starting pitcher Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox leaves the field after throwing a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 21, 2012 in Seattle, Washington. This was the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Philip Humber had years of surgery and failure before finally making a major league rotation in 2011, seven years after he was drafted. On Saturday, he reached the pinnacle of his profession.
Philip Humber was supposed to be good from the time he was first chosen in MLB's draft.
But Humber struggled; he had a poor year in his first professional season in 2005 and then had Tommy John surgery. He did make it briefly to the major leagues with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season, making a pair of inconsequential relief appearances. For a time, it appeared his biggest claim to fame would be that he was one of four players sent by the Mets to the Minnesota Twins in February 2008 in exchange for Johan Santana.
Humber made no further headlines in three minor-league years in the Twins and Royals organizations from 2008-2010, never posting an ERA lower than 4.47. The Royals thought so little of him that they let him go as a six-year minor league free agent after the 2010 season; he was picked up by the Athletics, but was just passing through. The A's waived him after he spent just a month in their organization.
Signed by the White Sox, he started the year as a nearly-forgotten man in their bullpen, then was placed in the rotation on April 6; he threw six solid innings against the Rays that day and about three weeks later, took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Yankees in New York. It was the first of five 2011 starts in which Humber went at least six innings and allowed three or fewer hits. He also finished with a good bases-on-balls ratio, walking just 2.3 per nine innings last season.
You can't ever anticipate pitching a perfect game; things have to be ... well, perfect, and Humber surely did everything right on Saturday, throwing just 96 pitches and going to a three-ball count only twice, both in the ninth inning. And he had to have a little bit of luck; the final play of the game, a somewhat-controversial swing by Brendan Ryan that turned into an out when A.J. Pierzynski threw Ryan out at first, was unusual, to say the least.
Another unusual note: Humber had the second-fewest career starts (29, before Saturday) of anyone to throw a perfect game. The fewest? Fellow White Sox pitcher Charlie Robertson had just four before he threw his perfect game against the Detroit Tigers on April 30, 1922; Humber's gem was nine days short of 90 years after Robertson's.
So after several attempts to stick in the major leagues and fulfill that first-round draft potential -- which led to a top-100 prospect ranking according to Baseball America in both 2005 and 2007 -- Humber reached a pinnacle shared by just 20 other pitchers in major league history.
And for the White Sox, who now have a solid 1-through-5 starting rotation, perhaps it's a sign that their 2012 season might go somewhere after all.