*by Greg Higgins – the Extra’s Sports Columnist
I’m getting ready to leave the house Saturday afternoon when I get a text message letting me know something special is happening in Seattle. This text message simply read, “White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber has perfect game through 8 innings vs. Mariners.” For those of you not familiar with this terminology, a perfect game is defined by Major League Baseball as a game in which a pitcher (or combination of pitchers) pitches a victory that lasts a minimum of nine innings, and in which no opposing player reaches base. This meant that the 13 word message was about to throw my world into a momentary bout of chaos. I was meeting my parents for a dinner engagement that night and we had to leave at a certain time. My parents hate being late to anything, so when they plan on leaving at a certain time it’s best to not disappoint. So this is where the conundrum was: do I turn on the television for the final inning and see what’s going to happen, or do I play the part of the good son and arrive at my parent’s house on time? So I walked into the living room, turned on the television, and started watching the game.
As I turned the game on, I already knew the magnitude of what was going on. Only 20 perfect games had ever been thrown in MLB history. That’s an insane ratio when you consider it was founded in 1869. I watched Humber take the mound and get ready to throw his first pitch of the 9th inning. He quickly fell behind the first batter, Michael Saunders, three balls and no strikes. Humber battled back to strike him out. He then got John Jaso to fly out before striking out Brendan Ryan to complete the perfect game The White Sox players rushed the mound and tackled Humber to show the appreciation they have for what just happened.
The perfect game is something that has always fascinated me. The first time I remember being aware of the accomplishment was watching Kenny Rogers throw a perfect game for the Texas Rangers against the Angels in 1994. What stood out to me in that game was Rusty Greer making a diving catch in the 9th inning to take away a single and save the perfect game. It’s that play by Greer that made me realize no matter how good the pitcher is pitching, the defense has to be on top of their game as well. Sure, the pitcher can’t give up any walks and has to have really good command of his pitches, but if the defense isn’t on top of their game then there’s no chance for a perfect game. A bobbled ball here, or a mis-throw there, and the perfect game is over. The pitcher and catcher have to be in perfect sync with each other. The defense has to be playing in perfect position to make certain plays. Most of all, there is also an element of luck involved with the perfect game. Borderline calls that could go either way.
There are many elements needed for perfection and on Saturday, the White Sox found all of them. The very last play of the game is a prime example. Ryan had worked a full count and the last pitch of the game he appeared to check his swing on a pitch that was low and wide of the zone. Without an appeal to the first base umpire, the home plate umpire ruled he went around and called it strike three. Much to the dismay of Ryan, the game was over. He didn’t like the call and he argued with the umpire for a bit afterwards. It didn’t matter, he was called out, the game was over, and the record books had been written. The 21st perfect game in MLB history had just gone down.
I’ve tried to compare the perfect game to some other accomplishment in another sport, but I can’t. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of facing 27 batters and getting 27 batters out in a row without any of them reaching base. Saturday Humber was able to put his name beside some great names that have pitched in the game of baseball. Twenty other pitchers have accomplished this feat. Twenty other pitchers have known that feeling. For those 21 pitchers, including Phillip Humber, the old adage “practice makes perfect” has never held truer. I’m sure we’ll see more perfect games in the future. The beauty of this game is that you never know what size, shape, or time perfection will appear. I just hope my parents are kind enough to forgive me once again when it does show up.
Greg Higgins is a sports enthusiast and has been all of his life. He loves playing and watching all kinds of sports. He is actively involved with the Paris Community Theatre, and he also serves on an Advisory Committee for PJC.