Humber's hard work pays off with perfection
On quest for long-term success, right-hander finds place in history
For the people who know Philip Humber best, this is a joyous moment. To see all the years of hard work, all the disappointment and pain and perseverance, to see it all rewarded is a memory to be cherished and savored.
With his perfect game Saturday in a 4-0 win over the Mariners, Humber has now done something only 20 other men in the history of Major League Baseball, and regardless of where the road goes from here, he will always have this shining light.
The funny thing is, there probably are dozens of former teammates, coaches and friends who are happier for Humber than he is for himself. In his heart, he always knew he was capable of great things.
Others admired his tenacity, but Humber himself believed that the work eventually would pay off. Even when he was being traded, waiver, demoted and otherwise left with little to cling to, he had a inner strength that kept him going.
He's one of those people virtually everyone roots for. He's decent and smart and relentlessly optimistic. Through the years, he has dealt with some pain and some disappointment, but he would not want anyone to feel sorry for him. That's not his way.
This isn't the way he envisioned things working out when the Mets made him the third pick of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft out of Rice. He'd pitched a complete-game victory over Stanford in the College World Series title game in 2003, and with a terrific mound presence, confidence and killer stuff, he was thought to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues.
Humber got there in just two years, but has always struggled to find the consistency that would allow long-term success. He tweaked his mechanics, his pitch selection -- you name it.
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper believes that he might have found something that works. Humber junked a cutter early last season and began throwing a slider that has gotten better and better.
He was very solid at the beginning of last season, including a game in which he took a no-hitter into the seventh against the Yankees in April. Humber struggled at the end, though, going 1-4 with a 5.01 ERA in his last 10 starts.
He allowed just one run in 5 1/3 innings in his first start of the season, and then on Saturday, retired all 27 men he faced and made history.
"Give all the credit to him," Cooper said Saturday evening. "He kept working. He was determined to get better. Today he was throwing all four of his pitches for strikes. He was driving the ball to the plate; he was very, very good."
Cooper didn't know much about Humber, 29, when the White Sox claimed him off waivers from the A's shortly after the start of Spring Training last season. He quickly became impressed with Humber's work ethic and desire to learn. In a game of so much failure, those aren't bad traits to have.
"He's a young man who has his stuff together," Cooper said. Humber grew up in East Texas and attended Rice after the Yankees took him in the 29th round out of high school. At Rice, he ended up on a great pitching staff that included Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend, a staff that led the way for Rice to win its first championship.
Humber had just two Major League starts until getting 26 for the White Sox last season. He made the club as Robin Ventura's fifth starter out of Spring Training and didn't get his first start until his team's ninth game.
Humber accepted the role happily, knowing he had to re-prove himself.
"Phil's got great stuff and he can do it," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski told reporters on Saturday. "He's just got to throw strikes and believe in himself."
Humber did that on Saturday, breezing through six innings on just 57 pitches and finishing the game with 96. When he was done, they were celebrating from Texas to Chicago and plenty of points in-between.
He has toiled in anonymity for so long, it's absolutely sweet to see him have this day. And maybe there will be a few more pretty good ones, too.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.