Two years ago today, baseball history was made. On the afternoon of Apr. 21, 2012 an unlikely player wrote his name in the record books forever. As the sun glistened on Safeco Field, Chicago White Sox starter Philip Humber toed the pitching rubber for an early season start. Coming off a 2011 campaign that saw his All-Star caliber first half give way to a horrendous second, Humber was on a mission to prove that he finally belonged in the big leagues.
Throughout his major league career, Humber has struggled to prove that he was worthy of being selected third overall in the 2004 draft by the New York Mets. After years of tackling control issues in the Mets organization, the team shipped him off to the Minnesota Twins in the Johan Santana deal. The Twins believed that all Humber needed was a fresh start. Unfortunately, he continued to grapple with control issues and his once devastating fastball dipped heavily in velocity. Skeptics began to point to the fact that Humber was trying too hard to prove that he was worthy of being one of the three best players in the 2004 draft. After eight starts with the Kansas City Royals in 2010, the Sox selected him off waivers at the beginning of 2011. Not much was expected from Humber when the Sox signed him. The organization believed that Don “The Pitcher Whisperer” Cooper could tune up Humber’s mechanics and transform him into a durable fourth or fifth starter.
Humber was expected to start the year in AAA but was placed in the starting rotation due to Jake Peavy being on the disabled list. The journeyman was chalked up as another pitching miracle done by Cooper as he became the White Sox best starter to start the year. While his fastball was still not up to par, Humber meticulously baffled lineups with his array of off speed pitches. His backdoor slider and change-up kept hitters off balance. Humber looked more relaxed on the mound and finally had the presence of a high draft pick. The righty was having an All Star season but was snubbed from making his first Midsummer Classic appearance. After that act of rejection, Humber’s career took a turn for the worse.
Expectations were high for Humber entering the 2012 season. Fans and the team believed that they would see more of the first half Humber than the second. Unfortunately, the starter just did not have it anymore. He bounced around from the rotation to the bullpen while failing to show any positives when he took the ball. When the rosters expanded to 40 in September of 2012, Humber became an afterthought. His 6.44 ERA and 1.54 WHIP made Dylan Axelrod look like an ace. It was apparent that despite his day of perfection, Humber was not in the White Sox’ future plans.
In 2013 Humber signed with the Houston Astros and was actually expected to be a front of the line starter for the rebuilding ball club. His veteran presence was supposed to bring guidance and some form of stability to a young rotation. Instead, Humber went 0-8 with an ERA of 7.90. There was no life behind Humber’s pitches and his off speed pitches hung like beaches balls out over the middle of the plate. The 31-year-old finally hit rock bottom.
After signing with the Oakland Athletics in the offseason, Humber is 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA while coming out of the bullpen for Class AAA Sacramento. No matter what he achieves or does not achieve, Humber will always be remembered as the guy who threw the 21st perfect game in baseball history. But what price did he have to pay for this brief moment of perfection? Did added pressure eventually lead to his downfall? Were higher expectations too much for him? Nobody will ever know. All that is for certain is that for one game, Humber faced 27 batters and retired all of them. For one afternoon, under the beaming sun of the Seattle sky, Humber lived up to all the expectations ever placed on him.