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Humble Philip Humber an unlikely candidate for perfection

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber waves his cap after pitching perfect baseball game against Seattle Mariners Saturday April

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Phil Humber waves his cap after pitching a perfect baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Saturday, April 21, 2012, in Seattle. The White Sox won 4-0. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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Updated: May 24, 2012 8:21AM

As Philip Humber collapsed to his knees, the first body to crash into him wore the No. 44 jersey.

Jake Peavy finally got his “dog pile.’’

“I felt Peavy on my back,’’ Humber said. “I couldn’t breathe and I was like, ‘Let me up.’ I skinned my forehead on the ground.’’

Meet the new face of perfection — a guy picked up off waivers with a wife about to deliver a baby boy any day now, and a skinned forehead.

Make room, Cooperstown.

Humber, 29, became just the 21st pitcher to throw a perfect game, as he sat down 27 straight Mariners on Saturday, with nine strikeouts, five groundouts and 13 flyouts on just 96 pitches. He joins Mark Buehrle and Charlie Robertson as the third Sox pitcher to touch perfection, but might be the unlikeliest on the entire list of 21.

Forget the road less traveled to get to this point, Humber took the road no pitcher wants to walk down.

Drafted third overall by the New York Mets, Humber’s resume at Rice smelled of elite pitcher, but just one year after being drafted, he underwent Tommy John surgery. What he became then was just another name on the transaction wire.

Traded in 2008 to Minnesota in the Johan Santana deal. Signed by Kansas City as a free agent Jan. 25, 2010. Claimed off waivers by Oakland Dec. 17, 2010. Claimed off waivers by the Sox on Jan. 18, 2011. When you’re passed around like a cold in that short of time, the next destination is usually some independent league, snapping off bad curveballs to the likes of Carl Everett and Jose Canseco.

That’s the nature of the beast.

But at the age of 28, Humber found something with the Sox. He found confidence.

In the first half of last season, heck, he was the most consistent pitcher the Sox had, going 8-5 with a 3.10 ERA, holding opposing hitters to a .218 average.

There were signs he could at least start making strides toward the hype of being the pitcher he was out of college. Strides. Not this. Not perfection. That’s why baseball is one of those sports that still sneaks up and grabs you when you least expect it.

“I don’t know what to say,’’ Humber said. “And don’t know what Philip Humber is doing in this list. I have no idea what my name is doing there. But I’m thankful it’s there.’’

Maybe not as much as the Sox.

No baseball team has been kicked around in the last year for how not to run an organization than the South Siders. So the fact that in the mess of contracts gone bad and “rebuilding’’ by not really “rebuilding,’’ there’s a story like Humber’s.

Humble, hungry and handed a fist full of keeping things in perspective because of the early obstacles thrown in his path.

“I worked hard at my craft and I wanted that work to pay off so I would be validated,’’ Humber said. “That was my identity as a baseball player. And I evaluated myself by my stat line. If it wasn’t good, I didn’t feel so good. It took me a long time to figure out that it’s not about me or us. Whatever we’re doing, we should do it to glorify God.’’

Yeah, he played the religion card, but when you throw perfection, it’s allowed.

So where do the Sox go from here? Well, in the wake of both the no-hitter and the perfect game Buehrle threw, the team seemed to sink after each. Today’s headlines and excitement doesn’t guarantee anything tomorrow.

What the Sox do take from this is a starting staff that has some serious swagger, not only because of what Humber did, but how Peavy and Chris Sale are pitching.

Will that lead to another on-field celebration this season? One that’s closer to October?

Unlikely. Then again, that’s already one more “dog pile’’ than anyone would have expected.

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