Having witnessed perfection this afternoon in Seattle, I have to say that Phillip Humber’s perfect game is still running through my mind. My work responsibilities have grown temporarily; therefore today’s game was my first live Mariners game of the season. What a way to start!
Keeping score at games is something I like to do. I know it’s old school, I know you can get digitized box scores and real-time updates, but keeping score with a pencil and paper just has a special way of keeping the audience engaged in the action. Through four innings, I realized that Humber wasn’t just tossing a no-hitter, but a perfect game. A lot of pitchers have thrown four perfect innings in history, so I wasn’t overly anxious. The odds were still clearly against Humber remaining perfect and I expected reality to set in at any moment.
The one thing that kept me wondering if he could pull it off, though, especially after he finished the sixth, is just how he was doing it. Humber wasn’t getting lucky, he wasn’t getting crazy called strikes by the umpire and his fielders weren't making incredible plays that were saving his bacon. Instead, he was dominating. Looking at the Pitch FX Data over at Brooks Baseball, you can see that he threw 67 of his 95 pitches for strikes (70%). He was especially deadly with his breaking stuff. The linear weights (effectiveness) of his slider and curveball were -2.56 and -2.41, respectively. These are very impressive numbers and went along well with his above-average fastball (-1.87), which averaged 91.5mph but topped out at 94.
A quick look at the scorecard revealed corresponding results. There were plenty of swings and misses, especially on the curveball, which batters whiffed on 24% of the time he threw it. But what is really impressive is just how many times Mariners batters looked baffled and hit weak pop-ups or ground-outs. Only a handful of balls were stung all day, two to the outfield and one on the infield. Otherwise, the Mariners went quietly as they failed to get squared-up on Humber's offerings. Most of these outs came early in the count, too. This has two culprits: 1) the Mariners aren’t exactly the most patient team in baseball (last in walks) and 2) they knew Humber was pounding the zone so they couldn’t afford to let many pitches go by. In fact, a large number of the balls he threw were the product of him already being ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2 and attempting to get the batter to strike himself out, which happened nine times today.
When the seventh began, things started to get serious. Casual fans and families at the park who were there to enjoy the sunshine began to catch on to what was happening. By the eighth, fans started to cheer quietly for Humber, against the hometown team. In the ninth, the crowd roared when Brendan Ryan struck out, much to his chagrin, to end the game and preserve the perfect performance by Phillip Humber. Everyone had been standing for the past three at-bats and no one left when the game ended but instead applauded the effort of the White Sox hurler.
History is history, and sure it hurts when it comes against your team, but to witness something that spectacular is awesome. It’s something I’ll surely never forget and neither will Humber. There have been a lot of baseball games played in MLB history (over 380,000) and only 21 perfect games. People will ask, “Who’s Phil Humber?” He may not be a household name, but his stuff was nasty, his approach was aggressive, consistent and Seattle simply had no answer. A tip of the cap is in order to Mr. Humber. Well done, sir, and thank you for the experience.