Being that it's more deeply rooted in history than most modern things, baseball is at its best when context rises to the forefront, when moments develop out of an ordinary Saturday afternoon in April that can be passed down like a cherished family heirloom. Never is this more appropriate than with a no-hitter, or, if you're so blessed, a perfect game.
"Where were you" moments are undeniably personal, though they tend to be created most out of tragedy. You remember where you were on 9-11, when Princess Diana's motorcade crashed in Paris, when Kurt Cobain took his life with a shotgun. If you fit into SB Nation's coveted 50-and-over demographic, the assassination of John F. Kennedy seems to serve as the ultimate example. Sports have a way of transcending this like little else, though. We remember the lows, but we really remember the highs. Since the experience of fandom is so often a negative one, few personal joys are greater than when this often senseless devotion pays off. Sports are great for many reasons, and this is one of them.
Every perfect game has a story. When Mark Buehrle threw his in 2009, I was there. I watched Dwayne Wise rise to make his iconic, perfection-preserving catch just feet in front from of me. I lived and died with every pitch over the last three innings; I was in the middle of the cathartic, joyous outburst that erupted in the left field bleachers of U.S. Cellular Field after the final out.
I was on the old Midwest newsdesk for SB Nation on Saturday, working a back-to-back shift I picked up for another soldier. A newsdesk shift is consuming stuff: you crank out content at the quickest pace possible. It doesn't leave much time for enjoying or analyzing the games at hand.
I worked the majority of my noon-8 shift in an empty apartment on Saturday, the way I often do when I'm home alone and a team other than the Bulls or Bears is the main event: the TV tuned to sports, on mute, while my iPod blares over the speakers. I went with the risky and rarely used 'all iPod shuffle' on Saturday. About an hour in, with Weezer playing, it struck me how many times I've done this exact thing.
I have probably watched the White Sox on mute while listening to the early catalog of Weezer 400 times in my life, conservative estimate. In this instance, it happened to occur while the 21st perfect game in baseball history was beginning to unfold.
Isn't this what makes baseball excellent? That these indelible moments can be created out of thin air, and by the most unlikely candidates? Humber's perfecto on Saturday certainly fits both criteria.
I saw the tweet from the Tribune's Mark Gonzalez after the fifth and paused the music. I wrote the alert as quickly as I could, knowing how fragile these things are. Even for someone as staunchly anti-jinx as myself, you can't help but write the words "Perfect game going through five" without being certain you're cursing something. This sense would become even more exaggerated later, when I had the audacity to pre-write the game recap (starting with "Philip Humber Perfect Game:") before Humber recorded an out in the ninth. When Seattle's Michael Saunders worked a 3-0 count to open the final inning, I thought it was all over. Of course, Humber battled back and finished off the batter with one of his nine strikeouts. So far as scant mathematical improbabilities go, it was that kind of day.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Humber's perfect game is how decidedly mundane it felt. Did I catch my heart jumping out of my chest during the ninth inning? No doubt. Did I let out an expletive-laden roar after Brendan Ryan's controversial final out, with a fist pump to match that would have made prime-era Tiger Woods jealous? You know it. But Humber's bid at perfection was so implausible, so unbelievable that it almost didn't register. It didn't register when it was happening, and two days later, I'm still not sure if I actually believe it.
There's reasons for this. Just look at our local slate this weekend: there was a lot of sports things going on. Derrick Rose returned from injury, the Cubs traded a starter, Raffi Torres was given the third longest suspension in NHL history for his inhumane hit on Chicago's Marian Hossa. All of that happened before Jonathan Toews would light the lamp in overtime of Game 5 and breathe new life into the Blackhawks' first round playoff series against the suddenly detestable Coyotes. Add in a perfect game from the most unimaginable of sources and you have what may amount to one of the more action-packed days in recent local sports history.
It all helped make "The Humber Games" -- patent pending -- feel about as undistinguished as something so remarkable possibly could. Our own Bobby Loesch sent me this email:
To equate it: MB's perfect game was like waiting to kiss a girl at the middle school dance and dreaming about it for weeks and then finally pulling it off perfectly; PH's perfect game was like unexpectedly making out with a girl in a drunken state at a college bar and barely remembering her name, let alone what she looked like, the next day.
There was also the peculiar details of the broadcast. White Sox baseball is Hawk Harrelson's voice, and vice versa, though we were robbed of the necessary running commentary on Saturday because the game was on FOX. I don't remember who the play-by-play man was; the color commentator was former Cub Eric Karros. Hawk would have provided an unforgettable final call, and mixed in some timeless Yaz stories along the way. It would have been better with him, as I find most things are. Being on the road never helps, either.
We're now firmly entrenched in a pitching-dominated era of baseball, so much so that we're in jeopardy of becoming desensitized to this type of highly sporadic greatness. There were six no-hitters in 2010, and three more last season. Four of baseball's now 21 perfect games have been tossed since 2009, two by White Sox pitchers. But the gravity of Humber's accomplishment on Saturday -- 27 up, 27 down -- shouldn't be lost on anyone. There wasn't a perfect game thrown from 1969 until 1981. The fact that baseball has been around for over 100 years and there's still only been 21 ever should tell you everything you need to know. What Philip Humber did on Saturday was impossible. It's very likely this could be the last White Sox perfect game any of us will ever see.