Humber perfect game testifies to pitcher's era that's not ending soon
Get ready for more. The perfect game Saturday for White Sox right-hander Philip Humber is just another sign of the times.
We are watching an era in which pitchers win MVP awards, a 49-year-old man throwing no harder than 79 miles per hour has a 2.55 ERA and a 29-year-old pitcher who was waived by the Royals two years ago and who never before threw a complete game in the major leagues can throw a perfect game.
Humber threw his perfect game against a sorry Seattle team that was hitting .235 -- and the Mariners aren't even the worst hitting team in the league. (Take a bow, Oakland.) The major league batting average is .248. We haven't seen hitting this bad over a full season in 40 years (.244 in 1972).
Take nothing away from Humber. He was a college stud at Rice who was taken fourth overall in the 2004 draft by the Mets and has since bounced from the Twins to the Royals to the White Sox, where he has become a solid major league pitcher. Perfect games, as the name implies, never come with warts. Humber earned himself a piece of baseball immortality.
But here's the deal: baseball immortality is being handed out like giveaway bobbleheads. Since 2009 -- we're talking three seasons and one month -- there have been four perfect games: Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden, Roy Halladay and Humber.
That would be one more than occurred in the 75 seasons between 1881 and 1955. That's one more than occurred in the first 20 seasons of the Expansion Era (1961-80).
Since 2009, we have seen 12 no-hitters. With five months still to play this season, that's almost as many as occurred in the last four seasons before Major League Baseball lowered the mound in 1969 -- the rule change being the equivalent of MLB crying "uncle," an admission that pitching had become too good.
Are we headed toward 1968? No. Hitting isn't quite that pathetic. Batters hit .237 back in '68. But there is no question we are a third season into an era in which pitching continues to take back the ground that was lost in The Steroid Era -- and then some.
Humber, a craftsman on the mound, chewed up the Mariners chiefly with sliders and curveballs to complement his laser-sharp four-seamer (24 of his 31 four-seamers were strikes). He turned a corner last year with the White Sox in 26 starts and looks to be a fixture in the Chicago rotation, not just a streaking comet.
Still, Humber is one of the least accomplished pitchers ever to throw a perfect game. In 120 minor league starts, he had thrown just one shutout.
It may seem that Humber's gem came out of the blue, but not so if you've been paying attention to how the game has changed. We have seen this retrenching of pitching coming over the past three seasons. An influx of young pitchers, steroid testing, the acceptance of strikeouts in the culture of hitting, more layers of scouting report information to attack hitters, a trend toward pitcher-friendly ballparks in new construction ... all of it and then some has helped pitching rule. But this month? This officially has become crazy. Just this month:
• The 49-year-old Jamie Moyer became the oldest man to win a major league game.
• Cliff Lee became only the third Phillies pitcher, and the first in 55 years, to throw at least 10 innings without giving up a run or a walk (Harvey Haddix, 1957; Ken Raffensberger, 1947). And he still could not get a win because Matt Cain shut out his team. Lee was placed on the DL three days after that start.
• Bartolo Colon, a 38-year-old journeyman built like a beer keg and pitching for his fifth team in six years, threw 38 consecutive strikes in a game against the Angels.
• Humber, who had never completed the eighth inning of a major league game, nevermind the ninth, threw a perfect game.
This is only three weeks, folks. What's next? The answer is unknown, but there will be more -- of that you can be sure. We will see more no-hitters. Maybe another perfect game. (We saw two in 2010, the only year in the modern era when that happened.) You will see more pitchers' duels. You will see more strikeouts.
All I know is this: if Moyer throws a no-hitter we might have to start talking about lowering the mound again.