Buehrle nearly perfect in win over Tigers
White Sox lefty allows one hit in eight dominant innings
CHICAGO -- To provide just a small example of how darned near perfect Mark Buehrle performed during Thursday's 6-0 whitewash of the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field, take a look at this statistical nugget from the South Siders' first win in their last five games.
Closer Bobby Jenks, who pitched the ninth inning to get some work, allowed more hits to the first two batters he faced then Buehrle did against the 27 he went against over eight innings. In fact, Buehrle retired the first 19 hitters without the help of any spectacular plays to preserve the perfect game.
He jumped ahead 0-2 on Placido Polanco, before the Tigers' second baseman lashed a double down the left-field line. Hopes for a repeat of April 18, 2007, when Buehrle no-hit the Rangers at home and faced the minimum of 27, were instantly erased.
"I was mad at him that he didn't get another because I wanted another watch," said a smiling catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who received the gift from Buehrle for being behind the plate two years ago during the 16th no-hitter in White Sox history.
"My stuff I was throwing, I felt capable of maybe getting there," Buehrle said. "Obviously everything was working. The velocity was up there, changing speeds. Physically, yeah, I felt pretty good."
How good did Buehrle actually feel? The veteran southpaw said his changeup was the best it has been in the past two years. He needed just 60 pitches to get through the first five innings, and prior to the seventh, Buehrle had allowed only one hard-hit ball-- a Ryan Raburn flyout to left-center that was hauled in by Scott Podsednik.
Buehrle went to one three-ball count, on Curtis Granderson leading off the fourth, and he needed help from first baseman Paul Konerko to haul in an errant throw by shortstop Jayson Nix to retire Gerald Laird to end the fifth. Those less-than-spine-tingling moments just about covered the no-hitter nerves through the first 6 1/3 innings.
Laird was the last out in Buehrle's no-hitter two years ago, as the starting catcher for the Rangers. He admitted to thinking about being in the lineup twice when Buehrle was unhittable.
"Tonight, he had good stuff," said Laird of Buehrle, who fanned five and walked two. "He had everything working for him -- he had his cutters, four-seamers in, his changeup. It was one of those nights where you have to tip your cap. And he's one of the best pitchers -- that's the bottom line."
"We needed this one really, really [urgently]," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Buehrle was Buehrle. Buehrle made those guys swing the bat [and didn't waste] any pitches. He's a guy when you go out there you better be on your toes, because something is going to happen."
After the White Sox five-run first against Detroit (14-13), there was little doubt as to whether Buehrle would post the first 5-0 start to a season of his illustrious career. All five of the runs scored by Chicago (13-14) came with two outs off of Armando Galarraga (3-2), who shut down the White Sox during a 9-0 victory in Detroit on April 15.
Jermaine Dye singled home one run, Konerko's double to right scored two more and Pierzynski capped off the rally with a two-run shot to right. Nix added his first career home run on a 1-0 pitch with one out in the fourth and played flawless defense in his first start as the temporary replacement for Alexei Ramirez.
"That's how it is in this game," said Nix, who got the baseball back from the milestone drive. "When you get your opportunity, you have to make the most out of it and just create more opportunities for yourself.
"Not a lot of thought goes into a situation like that. You approach the game the same way and try to go out each night and help the team win and do whatever you can."
Polanco's seventh-inning double eventually developed into a bases-loaded, two-out situation, before Laird flied out to center. Buehrle struck out Adam Everett to end a perfect eighth, and Guillen then decided to pull him at 110 pitches.
After breezing through the sixth inning with two strikeouts, Buehrle was caught on television in the White Sox dugout telling third-base coach Jeff Cox that he had a no-hitter. Buehrle explained after the game that he didn't jinx himself in that moment, but instead he was joking around like that with Cox from his first perfect inning.
Superstition didn't exactly play a big part when Buehrle finished off the no-hitter in 2007. The difference on that night was about a 40-degree drop in the temperature, as Laird pointed out, and Buehrle relying more on his cutter against the Rangers.
The ultimate results were different, but according to Buehrle, the feeling was pretty much the same.
"Comparable, pretty similar," said Buehrle. "I don't know how good my changeup was that night, but I think I threw a majority of changeups tonight. It was one of those pitches that was just working for me.
"You obviously have Miguel Cabrera in there, who is leading the league in hitting. And Magglio [Ordonez] has hit me pretty well. So I pretty much knew that going through that lineup three times, trying to get them out every time, was going to be pretty tough."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.