Buehrle out of sync as Sox lose finale
Thome goes deep with a three-run shot in loss to Twins
MINNEAPOLIS -- Some obvious sarcastic quips flow naturally from Minnesota's demolition of Mark Buehrle and the ensuing 13-7 victory over the White Sox on Sunday afternoon before 36,254 at the Metrodome to close out the first half of the 2009 season.
Maybe Buehrle started celebrating his fourth career All-Star selection one day early. Buehrle's body was in Minneapolis, but his mind could have been in St. Louis.
But here's the bottom line understood by anyone who follows the White Sox ace hurler and true pitching staff leader by example. When Buehrle is good, when his pitches are moving and mesmerizing hitters, and that scenario plays about eight out of every 10 Buehrle trips to the mound, he gives the team a chance to win at the absolute least.
On those rare occasions when Buehrle is off the mark, as he was on Sunday, well, he usually gets hit pretty hard.
The Twins (45-44) proved that fact true, knocking out 10 hits and scoring eight runs in 3 1/3 innings against Buehrle (9-3). This offensive explosion included a home run from leadoff man Denard Span to open the game for Minnesota, a three-run shot from Carlos Gomez in the second and Brendan Harris' two-run blast in the fourth to knock out Buehrle.
Eight earned runs allowed by Buehrle clearly were a season high, marking just the second time in 18 starts the southpaw allowed more than four earned runs in a game. These eight earned runs also stood as one more than he had given up in his past four outings combined, ending a six-start unbeaten streak and a three-game winning streak.
So, what was Buehrle's explanation for his pre-All-Star struggles?
"Just trying to make sure everyone [in the bullpen] went off on a good note, got some innings in," said a smiling Buehrle in self-deprecating fashion. "I threw five pitches where I wanted today and three of them got hit.
"It was one of those days where everything I wanted to cut was sinking, everything I wanted to sink was cutting. Even my warmup pitches, I was trying to throw a changeup and it was cutting on me. So, it was just one of those days where you don't have your good stuff, and instead of trying to go out there and go deep in the game, trying to battle, they got me out early."
Buehrle entered the game with a 23-13 career record against Minnesota, the most victories he has over any single team. But on Sunday, in losing for the first time since June 4 at home against Oakland, Buehrle yielded his highest run total since allowing eight in Kansas City on Aug. 2, 2008.
There were no cheap hits among the 10 knocked out by the Twins.
"He left a few balls over the middle of the plate," said Harris, who finished with two doubles and the fourth-inning long ball against Buehrle. "More balls today than I think I'd seen in six or seven times facing him, balls that you could drive. Maybe his location was a little bit off."
"We took advantage of him. He's definitely a good pitcher, but he wasn't on today," said Span, who reached base four times and scored three runs. "When we got up there, me personally, I just felt confident that I was going to get a pitch to hit."
Even with Buehrle's lone poor start of 2009 in front of them, the White Sox (45-43) did not go down without a fight.
Jim Thome's three-run home run with two outs in the sixth, his 14th this season and 555th of his illustrious career, was the first real blemish for Minnesota starter Scott Baker (7-7). This game, which saw the Twins leading by an 8-1 margin after five frames, actually got as close as 8-5 in the seventh, with the bases loaded for the White Sox, two outs and Jermaine Dye facing reliever Matt Guerrier.
Dye popped out to end the inning, and the Twins bounced back with five runs in the bottom of the seventh to secure another home series victory over the White Sox. One hit batsman, one walk, a Gordon Beckham error and a passed ball charged to A.J. Pierzynski contributed to the momentum-changing inning.
"Our pitching was really poor, and our defense didn't help us," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "But we battled back. We were one hit away from making the game interesting."
"It was just a rough day," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who ended the first half with a .302 average. "It was nice to see us swing the bats well. We have trouble scoring runs here, so it was nice even in the losses, we scored some runs."
Two weekend setbacks mean the White Sox have dropped 11 of their past 13 games played at the Metrodome, while suffering their third setback in four games to close the first half. They fell 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers (48-39) in the American League Central and hold a one-half game advantage over the Twins for second.
A feeling of great hope still existed in the White Sox clubhouse, brought about by a gradual climb from when they were seven games under .500 in mid-May, as players prepared to travel to various destinations during the All-Star break. Buehrle will be going to St. Louis, partaking in the All-Star festivities, coming off a start that would be the exception rather than the rule where his highly successful first half is concerned.
"Obviously, it [stinks] going into the All-Star break, and then having a start like this," Buehrle said. "It's my first real bad one this year and you're going to have a couple every year. It still [stinks]."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.