Humber takes a wayward path to perfection

Not much in Philip Humber's professional baseball career has gone smoothly. With that, it only seemed fitting he would make the 21st perfect game in major league history look so effortless against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.

Outside of a slight leap by White Sox right fielder Alex Rios to make a catch in the fourth inning, Humber going to two three-ball counts in the game, both in the ninth inning, and having Brendan Ryan chase a slider outside the strike zone for the game’s final out, the Mariners gave Humber little trouble on Saturday.

Perfect games aren’t supposed to come easily, but Humber made it look that way Saturday. He needed just 96 pitches to get the Mariners to strike out nine times, ground out five times and fly out 13 times. He required only six pitches to get through the fifth and sixth innings and eight pitches for the eighth inning.

Humber's perfect game was the most efficient since David Cone’s July 18, 1999, perfect game for the New York Yankees against the Montreal Expos. Cone used 88 pitches to complete his perfect game.

“It’s something that was out of my control,” Humber said. “I know God had a hand in it, and I’m thankful.

“I don’t even know what to say. I don’t know what Philip Humber is doing in this list. I have no idea what my name is doing there, but I’m thankful it is there.”

Humber has had a rocky career since being selected out of Rice as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft by the New York Mets. He was one draft choice after Justin Verlander. His promising career was quickly derailed when his right elbow required Tommy John surgery in 2005.

Humber had the surgery on July 17, 2005. From there, he has traveled a long road to get to a perfect game on April 21, 2012.

Humber bounced around the Mets’ minor league system most of 2006 before making his major league debut on Sept. 24 that year. He made two appearances from the Mets’ bullpen that season.

The following year, he again remained in the minors for most of the season before being called up in September. After two relief appearances for the Mets, he started his first major league game on Sept. 26, 2007. He pitched four innings and allowed six hits and five runs against the Washington Nationals.

In 2008, the Mets decided to part ways with Humber. They traded him along with three other players to the Minnesota Twins for Johan Santana. Humber spent the majority of 2008 with the Twins’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. He made five relief appearances for the Twins in September.

Humber began the 2009 season in the majors, but was sent back to Triple-A after allowing 11 hits and six runs in four relief appearances in April. He was called up again in August and pitched four more times in relief.

After stints in the Athletics and Royals organizations, the White Sox claimed Humber in January 2011. Unlike everywhere else, the White Sox quickly turned to Humber as a starter in the majors. He made two relief appearances to begin the 2011 season, but he made his first start on April 9 and continued to start the rest of the way.

Humber would reward the White Sox for their confidence. He was 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA in 28 games in 2011.

And then there was Saturday, his 30th career major league start.

“It’s not me,” Humber said. “It’s really not. I’ve said it a lot, but God, it’s his timing. I haven’t changed. I’ve worked as hard as I’m working now my whole career. But before it used to be about me, but now it’s not.

“I worked hard at my craft. I wanted that work to pay off, so I would be validated. It was kind of my identity was a baseball player. How I evaluated myself was my stat line. So if my stat line was great, I felt good about myself. If it wasn’t, then I didn’t feel good. It took me a long time to figure out it’s not about me or us. Whatever we’re doing, we should be doing it to glorify God. That’s a whole lot better to live because you know he’s in control, and you can just be thankful for what’s happening.

“I’m not always saying I’m going to be successful because of that attitude. On the field, I’m not always going to have good games. But I will be a joyful person because of where my heart is.”

For Humber and his teammates, there was certainly plenty of joy on Saturday.

“It’s as nervous as you can be as a player,” said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who made the game’s final out by throwing the ball to first base on Ryan’s strikeout. “I would say I was more nervous than I was in the World Series because there’s no buildup for this. It just happens.

“You want it so bad for the guy on the mound. You want him to have that achievement forever, to be remembered forever. It’s a special thing that Phil did.”