Phil Humber loves New York.
And he truly enjoyed the city even before coming within eight outs of throwing the 18th no-hitter in White Sox history during Monday's 2-0 victory over the Yankees.
Humber was drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft but chose instead to attend Rice University. He was the third pick overall in the '04 Draft, as selected by the Mets, but made only five appearances and one start for the National League New York franchise.
It took an exit from the Big Apple for Humber (2-2) to find success in the city.
Before 40,506 on Monday, Humber not only held the Yankees (12-7) without a hit for 6 1/3 innings but really limited them to three hard-hit baseballs. If not for Carlos Quentin's running catch in right-center on an Alex Rodriguez drive in the fourth, Humber wouldn't have been challenged until Rodriguez's one-out single to center in the seventh.
"I don't think he threw a ball straight all day, that I can recall," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who finished 0-for-3 against Humber and 0-for-4 for the game. "He was throwing hard, two-seamers and sinkers. He was throwing balls that were cutting. He was mixing in his offspeed pitches, slider and curveball, and he started using his changeup late. He kept us off balance all day."
"He had command of all four of his pitches and didn't really make any mistakes in the middle of the plate," added Yankees catcher Russell Martin of Humber. "For the most part, he was deceptive, his fastball was moving and he threw his back-door curveball well against lefties. He was just mixing speeds really well. You've got to tip your cap to that guy."
Getting the hat tip in their direction stands as a nice change for the White Sox (9-14), who ended a three-game losing streak and broke loose from a stretch of 10 losses in 11 games. They still didn't hit a ton, scoring one run in the fourth on Adam Dunn's grounder against A.J. Burnett (3-1) and one run in the ninth on Paul Konerko's single off Rafael Soriano.
As manager Ozzie Guillen pointed out, though, the White Sox swung the bats better and did some good things. Quentin opened the fourth with a double, and before Dunn's hard-hit grounder, Konerko moved Quentin to third with one out via a textbook grounder to the right side.
Pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge swiped second base in the ninth to set up Konerko's insurance hit and give the White Sox a little momentum going into Tuesday night's action.
"We won," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski with a laugh, when asked about the momentum. "And we actually scored. That's a good start."
Not only did the White Sox accomplish both of the above, but in the team's first save situation since April 13, Sergio Santos came through with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to finish off the win. Santos gave up a two-out hit to pinch-hitter Eric Chavez in the eighth before inducing a grounder back to the mound from Jeter to end the frame.
Then, the ninth came around. It's the inning in which no White Sox lead appeared to be safe. And when Curtis Granderson launched a leadoff single to right, it became time to see if Santos could handle the pressure of those final three outs. Nobody was warming up in the White Sox bullpen, so it was all on the right-hander.
"Either I was going to be the chump or the hero, so I said, 'Let's go for it,'" Santos said. "It was nice to have that confidence to send me out and get three outs."
Santos rewarded Guillen's confidence by inducing a double-play grounder from Mark Teixeira on a 2-0 pitch and then striking out Rodriguez for the last out.
"You could see it on his face, knowing, 'I can do this,'" said Pierzynski of Santos' reaction after he got the Teixeira double play.
This start was No. 4 of the 2011 season for the 29-year-old Humber and just the sixth start of the right-hander's Major League career. Currently, Humber is filling the rotation spot vacated by Jake Peavy, who heaped pats on Humber's back after Humber exited in the seventh, then heaped praise upon him in the clubhouse after the victory.
Breaking a 23-inning scoreless streak with Dunn's grounder in the fourth was an important moment for the offense. Quentin's great catch on Rodriguez's sharp drive saved a run and made a stand for the White Sox struggling outfield defense, and Santos just might have asserted himself as the closer of a bullpen that was previously 1-for-7 in save situations.
Monday's victory really belonged to Humber, and deservedly so. He walked two, hit one and struck out five, as he continues to thrive with the opportunity given to him by Peavy's ongoing rehab. And to paraphrase the famous Frank Sinatra tune, if Humber can make it in New York, he can make it anywhere.
"A.J. did a great job of calling pitches and keeping them off balance," said Humber, who helped the White Sox improve to 2-6 on this 11-game, three-city road trip. "We are trying to win a game. I'm not trying to no-hit the New York Yankees at all. I was happy to keep them off the bases and for the most part stay ahead in the count.
"That's the main thing. You go out there when it's your start, and you want to win the game, regardless of your personal results or anything like that. You want to give your team a chance to win and go deep in the game."