Buehrle pitches way out of win drought
Starter tosses seven scoreless for first victory since May 19
CINCINNATI -- Here's a strange but true fact relating to White Sox ace hurler Mark Buehrle.
From May 20 up until Sunday afternoon's start at Great American Ball Park, the left-hander had one more home run hit than he had victories. Going five starts without a win, albeit with four no-decisions during that stretch, stands as a rare occurrence for a pitcher with a dominant 129-89 record for his career.
But in Sunday's series finale against the Reds (34-34), the baseball world returned to normal where Buehrle was concerned during a 4-1 victory for the White Sox. Buehrle finished 0-for-2 at the plate with a sacrifice bunt and a couple of wild swings, but did his usual damage on the mound via seven scoreless innings.
In leading the White Sox to the weekend series victory, their fifth straight non-losing road series, Buehrle yielded just five hits and allowed only two runners to reach second base and one runner to reach third. Jonny Gomes opened the second with a double, but Buehrle (7-2) worked out of the frame unscathed. He struck out three, walked one and threw 67 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
The deeper meaning of Buehrle's effort, saving the bullpen after five relievers were used in Saturday's contest, stood out in the mind of his teammates.
"Vintage Buehrle," said White Sox leadoff man Scott Podsednik, who had two hits and two runs scored. "It was big for him to go late into the game. You pretty much expect that out of this guy, to battle from pitch one. He did that today, and kept the Cincinnati hitters off balance."
"Last night was a real long, tough, grueling game," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko in praise of Buehrle. "To come out and have him throw the ball like he did, you appreciate that as a player on the field because everybody who played last night is dragging a bit today. We gave him a couple of runs early and he just ran with them."
Two runs in the first off Aaron Harang (5-7) were all the White Sox (33-36) needed to support their ace. Three straight singles from Podsednik, Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski scored the first run, and Konerko's double-play grounder brought home Ramirez.
Konerko picked up career RBI No. 1,000 in the fifth, singling home Podsednik with two outs. Podsednik reached to open the inning with an old-fashioned slap-bunt, just part of his 6-for-12 showing during the weekend in Cincinnati.
"When Alexei and I can get on base, it jumpstarts our offense," Podsednik said. "We will be a lot more dangerous when Alexei and I are on base."
Dewayne Wise's ninth-inning double off reliever Nick Masset scored Gordon Beckham with an insurance run. Beckham reached base three times via two hits and a walk. Bobby Jenks pitched a perfect ninth for his 17th save and second of the series.
Cincinnati's only run came home off setup man Scott Linebrink in the eighth. Ramon Hernandez's line drive to Ramirez turned into an inning-ending, rally-killing double play when Jerry Hairston Jr. was caught off second, but the right-hander's struggles continue to evoke concern from Guillen.
"His velocity is good, but his command is not helping him," said Guillen of Linebrink, who has been scored upon in five of his past seven appearances. "If we are going to win, we need him. We need him to step up and pitch better."
Buehrle has stepped up on the mound since the start of the 2009 campaign, but why should this season be different from any of the past eight for the southpaw? He improved to 19-6 lifetime in Interleague Play and 27-11 lifetime in June, and he captured his 20th win in 28 decisions over his past 37 starts, dating back to June 1, 2008.
In the process, he avoided a winless month, although Buehrle still has one more June start Saturday at home against the Cubs.
"Well, I had some leads and it seemed like the home run ball was kind of stopping me from getting the win," said Buehrle of his winless stretch. "I gave up runs late in the game to tie it or give them the lead. The main thing for me was keep the ball in the ballpark."
"Mark has been doing this for a long time," Hairston said. "He does a good job of keeping the ball down and mixing his pitches. He works in and out, and the key is he's probably the fastest worker in the game. He doesn't really allow the hitter to get too comfortable."
Without the presence of an injured Carlos Quentin and designated hitter Jim Thome, who was relegated to pinch-hitting duties, the White Sox were pretty solid themselves during a 5-3 Interleague road trip to Milwaukee, Wrigley Field and Cincinnati. They hope to build off that momentum and improve on their 7-4 Interleague record this week at home.
About the only problem in this equation for Buehrle is that barring a start during the September makeup game at Wrigley Field or a White Sox trip to the World Series, his bat has been retired for the season. He goes out with one home run and an 0-fer on Sunday.
"That was the real Mark Buehrle that showed up today," said Buehrle with a laugh of his offense. "The home run was a fluke. You saw the terrible swings."
"He ran into that one fastball in Milwaukee. That was going to be it," Konerko said. "But he handles the bat pretty well. He's just one of those guys who is kind of good at everything. He just seems to figure things out."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.