They had been shut out twice this season, no-hit two times over the years and then, on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Safeco Field, a nondescript pitcher named Philip Humber dragged the Seattle Mariners into history.
By the bottom of the ninth inning, with the home team trailing the Chicago White Sox, 4-0, a crowd of 22,472 was on its feet cheering Humber – who got the final three outs of the 21st perfect game in history .
“If you respect the game, you try to break it up,” said Seattle’s John Jaso, who pinch-hit in the ninth inning. “But when it’s over, you tip your cap to him.
“That’s the way baseball should be played.”
A right-hander without an overpowering fastball – he touched 92 mph when he did throw it – Humber retired all 27 Mariners and pitched the first complete game of his career.
It left the Mariners stunned and beaten.
“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.”
From the first inning through the ninth, the Mariners came and went in order – 1-2-3 every time. Humber struck out nine batters, and of the 18 balls put in play, only one came close to being a hit.
That came off the bat of Dustin Ackley, who lined a ball over the head of right-fielder Alex Rios in the fourth inning. Rios made a leaping catch near the warning track.
“I thought it was in the gap, but he made a great play,” Ackley said. “At that point, we were just trying to get runners on base, we weren’t thinking perfect game.
“He had a great breaking ball, and he kept it down, worked it in and out. He had command of his change-up, slider, curve, fastball – you couldn’t eliminate any of them.”
From the Seattle dugout, manager Eric Wedge watched his team get no-hit for the first time in his career.
“We mis-hit a lot of balls,” he said. “We did that all day long. We chased some bad pitches, we didn’t hit good pitches. We never got anything going. Humber pitched a great game.
“You go through something like this, you have to learn something from it. You have to figure out what happened and why.”
By the fifth inning, Michael Saunders said, the Mariners were talking about Humber’s no-hitter in the dugout.
“We were saying, ‘Let’s go, break this up,’ ” Saunders said.
In the eighth inning, Kyle Seager hit a ball hard the other way, toward the left-field corner.
“Off the bat I thought it might get down there and I was thinking ‘slice,’ but it didn’t,” Seager said.
Outfielder Brent Lillibridge, in left field as a defensive replacement, easily ran the ball down.
Come the ninth inning, everyone in Safeco Field was aware of what was on the line when the Mariners came to bat.
The game was likely lost – 4-0 is a lead too large for this club – but the history there had never been a perfect game thrown against the Seattle Mariners.
With that crowd on its feet, clapping, it came down to three hitters: Saunders, pinch-hitter Jaso and pinch-hitter Brendan Ryan.
Saunders jumped ahead in the count, 3-0.
“I took a pitch and he threw a strike. I was pretty amped up,” Saunders said. “I probably chased ball four swinging at strike two.”
On a 3-2 count, Saunders sat “fastball.” And got a 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.”
Instead, Saunders struck out.
“He threw a slider in that situation? Hats off to him,” he said.
Batting for Miguel Olivo, Jaso came up having watched the first eight innings.
“It was pretty special, even when it’s against you,” Jaso said. “On the third pitch, I got something to hit and just missed it.”
A fly ball to center field and it was down to two men and one out. Humber was clearly feeling the moment. So was infielder Ryan, batting for Munenori Kawasaki.
“I was so fired up to get the chance to wreck it,” Ryan said. “My heart was probably pounding harder than his. All day long, he had A-plus stuff.”
The count went full at 3-2, and Humber threw a fastball Ryan fouled off.
“I’d like to have that one pitch back,” Ryan said. “In that situation, you’re getting the best of both guys out there.”
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.”
Blake Beavan gave the Mariners a quality start, which would have played better had the White Sox not gotten the perfect one from Humber.
“My high school coach coached both of us and told me I threw a lot like Humber,” Beavan said. “We both played in Irving, Texas.”
Humber, 29, was out of high school by the time Beavan, 23, got there.
“I was always hearing about how good a pitcher he’d been in high school,” Beavan said.
Beavan wasn’t bad, either, named the 2006-2007 Texas high school player of the year, throwing a perfect game and striking out 18 batters on March 6, 2007.
On Saturday, it was Humber’s turn at perfection.
“Even in the ninth, I was thinking, ‘We can win this,’ because no one likes losing,” Beavan said. “I watched him battle all day, make pitches all day. When it was over, yeah, I could be happy for him.
“Not during the game, though. I wasn’t excited about losing.”
For the record, Beavan went six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, facing 27 batters – the same number Humber faced in nine innings.
When it was over, Beavan was 1-2 with a 3.26 earned-run average.
Humber was 1-0 with a 0.63 ERA – and a game that will be forever part of the Hall of Fame.