I've been lucky in my career to have covered six no-hitters and, after Philip Humber's effort for the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field today, two of those were perfect games.
The Seattle Mariners lost it, 4-0, and by the ninth inning a crowd of 22,472 was standing, cheering every Humber pitch. They knew the rarity of what they were seeing - there had been only 20 perfect games ever thrown in the majors.
This afternoon, they got to see one.
The first perfect game I saw was on the final day of the 1984 season, with California Angels right-hander Mike Witt beating the Texas Rangers, 1-0. The Rangers came no closer to a hit that day than the Mariners did on this one.
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Like Humber, Mike Witt wasn't overpowering. He was a strike thrower with good command and, on that day in '84, everything he threw was not only a strike, but a strike where he wanted it.
Like all of us at Safeco Field, catcher John Jaso spent the first eight innings watching. In the ninth, he pinch-hit for Miguel Olivo.
“If you respect the game, you try to break it up,” Jaso said. “But when it’s over, you tip your cap to him. That’s the way baseball should be played.”
From the first inning on, the Mariners knew they had a problem.
“He kept throwing strikes,” Chone Figgins said. “He got ahead in the count and stayed ahead, and we never got him in many hitting counts. It was hard to watch, hard to be part of.”
In the ninth inning, Humber faced Michael Saunders, Jaso and Brendan Ryan. He fell behind Saunders, 3-0, then came back to strike him out on a 3-2 slider.
“I knew what was on the line, and if I had to do it again I’d do the same thing,” Saunders said. “I wasn’t trying to walk my way on base, I wanted to hit.”
Jaso flied out, and Ryan worked the count to 3-2.
On his last pitch, Humber threw what would have been ball four, low and away. Ryan started to swing, tried to check it and thought he had.
Plate umpire Brian Runge thought he swung and rang him up for the 27th out of a perfect day for Humber.
“By the end, even our fans wanted to see him get it,” Ryan said. “They’re great baseball fans, they wanted to see history. Hats off to Humber, he did it.”
It was, like each of the six no-hitters I've covered, a special, unexpected few hours of mastery. In the two perfect games I've covered, they were the highlight of each pitchers career - and beautiful to watch.