This past Saturday afternoon, the M’s lost in a shut out. You might have heard. It was against Chicago White Sox pitcher Phillip Humber, who’d been perfect through eight. I was out and about but was able to listen to the ninth inning on the radio. You can imagine – the crowd was hushed at first, and the rest of the White Sox were staying as far away from Humber in the dugout as they could in the top half of the inning. No one want to talk to a pitcher who’s taking a no-no into the sixth or seventh, much less a perfect into the ninth. No one wants to be the guy to break the spell.
Bottom ninth, Humber takes the mound and faces a pinch hitter. He throws a ball, another ball, and then a ball so far out of the zone it’s nearly a wild pitch. He’s dug himself a 3-0 hole and the perfect is on the line already.
Batter takes the next pitch and I think to myself, “I don’t care where that pitch is, if the umpire can call it a strike in any universe, he will.” Called strike. 3-1.
Batter swings at the next pitch and misses. Full count, 3-2.
The crowd is getting into it – it’s not their pitcher, but they love baseball, and know they might see history.
Batter swings. Misses. One down.
Next batter pops out on the second pitch, or maybe the third, I don’t recall. Another pinch hitter comes up.
Strike one, strike two.
The crowd roars. In my car, I’m begging the hitter, don’t give in. Make him earn it. Not because I want to see the perfect game ruined – because that’s how you have to play this game. All out, no matter what. Don’t give in.
Ball. 1-2 count.
Ball. 2-2 count.
Ball. Full count.
Crowd is on its feet. I’m yelling at the radio. The announcer for the M’s, Rick Rizzs, is beside himself.
Humber throws. Batter checks his swing. Ball four, he thinks, and heads to first.
But no. Home plate umpire calls a checked swing strike. Rizzs is having a hard time keeping up. Because the catcher drops the ball. If the runner makes it to first, he’s safe, even though the near-perfect game pitcher will also record the 27th out of the game. Stupid baseball rule, even I admit that. Stupid.
Catcher throws to first.
It’s in time. Runner’s out. On April 21st, 2012, major league baseball records its twenty-first perfect game. Humber is mobbed by his teammates, the crowd is on its feet to cheer, and that’s the way the game should be played.