Andrew Farrell, Brett Pill, Brian Richards, Danny K, Former players, Gwangju-KIA Champions Field, KIA Tigers, LG Twins, MLB, Perfect game, Philip Humber, Uncategorized

They came to play baseball: #1 Philip Humber.

He swung! Pierzynski! He’s gotta throw it down! It’s a perfect day for Philip Humber. On the 21st of April, 2012 in Seattle. The 20th perfect game in regular season history…..How about that?

 

The greatest moment of Philip Humber’s career occurred at Safeco Field, Seattle, during the Chicago White Sox’ 5-0 win over the Mariners. Humber’s accession to the top, in terms of the greatest individual achievements, was as sharp as his decline. Trawling through the comments below that YouTube video gives a perfect insight into the minds of most baseball fans at the time.

Here’s a flavor.

So many pop-ups. This is like the Internet Explorer of perfect games.

As a Sox fan I still don’t understand how Humber pulled this performance out of his ass. Incredible.

The most improbable perfect game in the history of baseball. As a Sox fan, I couldn’t believe it then and can’t believe it now.

After that extraordinary achievement, backed up by his teammates on the field, Humber was firmly in the spotlight. There was a sit-down with David Letterman and a call from US president Barack Obama. He had had a good week, on and off the field, but then it began to unravel. Southside Sox said “you’ll never see a career like Philip Humber’s again.”

Like a lot of other perfect game pitchers, Humber struggled thereafter, so much so that his ERA in his 5 starts after the perfect game was the highest of any pitcher in the previous century. 7.86 with an 0-2 record and 3 no decisions. Bleacher Report asked if there really is a “Perfect Game Curse.”

Before the end of the year, his time in Chicago was up. Houston offered him a deal but by now, his career appeared to be in free-fall.

Korean baseball comes calling

And then it was announced in December 2014, two-and-a-half-years after pitching a perfect game in the Majors, Humber had signed a one year contract with KBO club, KIA Tigers. The KBO isn’t a graveyard league where washed up old pros would see out the remainder of their careers earning a tidy amount of money. Not any more. Eric Thames had shown that excelling in Korea could earn you another opportunity in the big leagues.

According to Danny Kurtz on myKBO, Humber’s contract was worth $400,000 per year, but as we’ve come to find out recently, player salaries are rarely, if ever, correctly reported. His signing bonus was $200,000.

It was a surprise when Humber’s arrival was announced. But, also, there was pure excitement. The KBO was about to welcome a perfect game pitcher to these shores. It hadn’t happened before. The KBO hasn’t even experienced a perfect game in its own league. It didn’t matter that Humber had gone through a couple of difficult years in MLB. He is the caliber of signing we have come to expect, but he also brought with him a unique piece of history.

humber59
Philip Humber is pre-season training wearing his #59 uniform. Photo credit: Sports Today.

The Tigers, Korea’s most successful baseball club, were struggling at this time. Years of stagnation on the field was in stark contrast to their development off the paddock. They moved across the road from a dilapidated and dangerous 13,000-capacity Mudeung Stadium to a gleaming new Champions Field. All they needed was a team to match their ambition.

Brett Pill, KIA’s immensely popular first baseman, was going to stick around for another season. Yang Hyeon-jeon, their ace lefty, would also return after spending the off-season trying to engineer a move to the US. With a name like Philip Humber on the roster, too, optimism was high for the Tigers. And then, after a bright start to the 2015 season, nothing happened.

Faltering Tigers

The season started so well for the Tigers, as they raced into a 6-0 start. It then took them another 12 games to win 6 more and after that, they just began sliding down the table. Humber made his debut in game 2 of the season versus LG Twins in Gwangju. His start was steady, allowing 2 earned runs off 5 hits and 2 walks in 4 innings. He struck out 4.

I was at that game, with this site’s co-founder Brian Richards. In all honesty, I remember nothing of Humber’s performance. What stood out in this game was a dramatic 9th inning finish.

Below are highlights of Humber’s KIA debut, which include a walk-off 2 run homer from first baseman Brett Pill. You can also see them here if the link isn’t working.

He collected his first win in his second start against kt wiz in Suwon, one of only 2 occasions he lasted 6 innings. In all, Humber’s opening 4 games were reasonably okay for a new pitcher in the league but when Lotte Giants came to Gwangju on April 22nd, 3 years and 1 day since his perfect game, Humber’s KIA career hit the rocks. 7 earned runs (2  home runs) in 5 innings began a poor spell of form culminating in Humber allowing 25 earned runs in 23 innings.

Humber was sent down to the Future’s League, the KBO’s version of the minors, on May 17th for a couple of weeks. Another chance followed, but in his next 3 appearances, he went 1-1 with a 5.19 ERA, giving up 5 earned runs in just 8.2 innings.

His final outing for the KIA Tigers was June 26th against Doosan Bears. He stayed out there for less than 1 inning, giving up 2 earned runs whilst collecting the loss. The following day, he was sent down for the second time and never received another call up. On July 20th, the Tigers let him go.

Personally speaking, the last thing I remember about Humber with the Tigers was this outing against Doosan Bears on May 16th 2015. He was sent down the next day after 4 innings, 4 earned runs and 107 pitches thrown.  It was during this game that the cautious optimism I experienced when Humber arrived made way for despair and resignation. It just wasn’t working out for him. We wanted him to be great, to show us something of those White Sox days. But it wasn’t to be.

Humber left Korea with 3-3 record from 12 games (11 starting). His ERA was 6.75 and his WHIP just shy of 2.00. In a league which relies heavily on starting pitching pitchers to go deep due to inadequate bullpens, Humber completed 6 innings (and no more) just twice. On average, he stayed out on for mound for 4.2 innings.

Philip Humber wasn’t the first pitcher in KBO history to be released early from his contract. It happens often as the deadline to change foreign players is the end of July. If you let go of a player after that time, a replacement can not be sought.

When asked about the experience of pitching in a hitter-friendly league, Humber admitted that “the whole time there wasn’t easy, but I’m glad we went. Like my wife said on the airplane home, ‘If we can get through that, we can get through anything.'”

Maybe he wasn’t fully fit. Or, perhaps, he needed longer to settle into Korean life. Was he really good enough? Who knows for sure. Humber retired from baseball in March 2016. We may never see another perfect game pitcher in the KBO again.

 

*Feature image of Philip Humber from HMG Journal.

 

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