Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back
April 27, 2011, 3:56 pm
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

If everything in life went exactly in a straight line, Phil Humber would not have been flirting with a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Monday night. He would have been doing it for them.

Drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 MLB draft, the Texas native chose to play college ball at Rice University instead.

It would be the first of many twists and turns in the baseball career for Humber, once a cant-miss prospect thought to be a Porsche, who would soon find himself treated like a Pinto.

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Hed help Rice win its first national championship in 2003. Hed be drafted by the Mets in 2004 as the third overall pick, one selection behind Justin Verlander, nine ahead of Cy Young frontrunner Jered Weaver.

He was making baseball look easy. Way too easy.

When I got drafted by the Mets, I kind of just assumed Id make a few starts in the minor leagues and just get my 10-15 year career in the big leagues, Humber said by phone Tuesday. I didnt realize how hard it is to actually get here, and on top of that how much harder it is to stay.

He wouldnt stay long.

Thrown into the fire of a late-September pennant race in 2007, Humber made his first major league start against the Nationals, and gave up five runs in four-plus innings. Humber didnt lose the game, but the Mets eventually did, not to mention a seven-game lead in the final three weeks of the season to the Phillies.

That winter, the Mets lost something else: their faith in their former No. 1 pick.

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Humber was shipped off to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Johan Santana. The hot shot prospect who didnt seem to have a ceiling would soon be headed towards baseballs basement.

The Twins would designate him for assignment after one season. The Royals waived him next, followed by the Athletics.

I wasnt having fun with baseball, Humber recalled.

But while pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2009, the light went on for Humber when he finally decided to turn the spotlight off.

I just wanted to go forward and play for me and not think about expectations of being traded for a big-name pitcher or for being a first-round pick that hasnt panned out. I just wanted to play for the fun of the game.

Throwing a no-hitter against the Yankees for six innings? That sounds like fun. But watching the stone-faced Humber coast through one of the toughest lineups in baseball, you wouldnt know it. He looked like a guy spacing out in math class, not throwing a no-no at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

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I wasnt thinking about who was at the plate and how many hits they had in their careers, Humber said. I was focused on making my pitches and as the game went on, I got more and more confident. When youre confident out there, youre able to really let your ability work. So I think that was the difference.

There was also the advice he received as a 12-year-old from Robert Ellis, a former major-league pitcher (and White Sox draft pick in 1990).

He would tell me, If I walk up and youre pitching, I dont want to be able to tell by looking at you if youre up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs. Thats kind of what Ive always tried to keep in mind. And I think it helps because the other team doesnt know if youre having a good day or bad day by looking at your body language.

Humbers spot in the White Sox rotation is currently a rental. Hes holding down the fort until Jake Peavy is healthy enough to return. But when Humber gets sent to the bullpen or even back down to the minors again, he won't be the shiny new car in the front of the showroom getting all the attention. He'll be the stronger, wiser 28-year-old who got knocked down and battled back.

Now I have a much greater appreciation for where Im at," Humber said. "I dont try to predict the future anymore. I dont try to say, If I do well, am I going to stay? Or if I dont, am I going to get sent down? I just go up there and do the best I can and try to remain grateful for the opportunity and concentrate more on the moment.

Moments like Monday night. From favorite to underdog (or is it Humberdog?). Either way, he's showing he's got plenty of bite.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.