“He's had a lot of big league experience, and he's been through the wars. I think he still believes in himself, I think he has confidence, and he just thinks he needs to make adjustments. Obviously this game will bring you to your knees at times … it's just a matter of him — he's got the right attitude — working to get back on track and eventually end up back in the big leagues.”
In his eight years in the majors, Humber's best season came in 2011, when he was with the White Sox. That season, the Nacogdoches, Texas, native started 26 games and finished with a 9-9 record. He struck out 116 batters and finished with a career-low 3.75 ERA in 163 innings.
The next season, he would pitch into the ninth inning for the first time, finish his first complete game and pitch that perfect game.
Humber's former White Sox teammate Brent Lillibridge, now back in Triple-A with Iowa, said that game had everyone amped up.
“You knew what was going on, so you're pretty nervous to not be the guy to let a ball drop,” Lillibridge said. “I was excited to help him out and get the game over with; it was a lot of fun.”
After Michael Saunders went up 3-0 in the count in the ninth inning in Seattle, Humber was able to strike out Saunders swinging for his eighth punch out of the game, and Humber would get John Jaso to fly out to right for the second out.
Humber had one man standing between him and his perfect game.
Mariners pinch hitter Brendan Ryan was up next. Ryan worked the count full, then went down on a checked swing that required White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski to throw to first to secure the final out.
Fourteen months removed from that day, the former teammates found themselves on opposing teams when the RedHawks and Cubs faced off Monday night. Lillibridge, like Humber, was sent to Triple-A after the Chicago Cubs designated him for assignment.
“It's different, especially for him, after having such amazing success in just the past year to be down here trying to work on stuff is just a part of the game,” the Iowa infielder said. “He's a very talented pitcher; he wouldn't have been able to throw a perfect game if he didn't have good stuff. It's a part of the game that a lot of people won't hear about is the guys that have success, struggle a little bit and try to figure it out down here and then go back and have more success.”
There's no telling when the Phil Humber of 2011 or April 21, 2012, will make an appearance again, but his manager and coaches know he has the mental strength not to let his struggles consume him.
“(Baseball is a) very difficult game; it looks easy on TV and from the sidelines, but when you're out there, that baseball has affected a lot of players over the years,” RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said. “It's very hard on your brain; there's a lot of failure that goes on in this game.
“The players that handle it everyday are the ones that succeed. The other ones who let it get too mental, it just kinds of eats up at you everyday. Lack of success causes players to believe they're not as good as they once were.”