Buehrle's perfecto serves as high point
South Siders go south after history-making event
CHICAGO -- The historic moment should have been a jumping-off point toward a 2009 American League Central championship for the Chicago White Sox.
Not only did Mark Buehrle toss the 18th perfect game in Major League Baseball history on July 23 against Tampa Bay at U.S. Cellular Field, but this victory moved the White Sox into a first-place tie with the Tigers. And it was a total team effort providing support for the crafty southpaw.
For example, Josh Fields, who had lost his starting job at third base to Gordon Beckham a little less than two months earlier, launched a grand slam off then-Rays lefty Scott Kazmir as the team's starting first baseman on this particular day. And Dewayne Wise, beset by injuries and ineffectiveness, made a leaping over-the-wall catch on the dead run in left-center to rob Gabe Kapler of a leadoff home run in the ninth inning. Wise had entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement.
Yes, the White Sox hoped to look back on this moment and collectively remark, "That's where our postseason run took shape." Instead, the Buehrle perfect game served as the high point of an underachieving season.
"We were in first place in the perfect game and since that, we went down," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of the stunning achievement on that beautiful afternoon in late July. "It's a great thing for Mark, a great thing for this organization. But after that, we went south."
Starting after Jason Bartlett's 27th out -- a ground ball to shortstop Alexei Ramirez -- the White Sox only managed a 28-38 record to limp across the season's end line. Buehrle, meanwhile, finished 3-7 over his final 13 starts.
There certainly were more problems to this AL Central finish behind Detroit and Minnesota than simply a post-perfect-game hangover. The White Sox didn't start strong in 2009, sitting at 15-22 after Toronto completed a four-game sweep at Rogers Centre on May 18. They didn't finish great either, with an 11-17 record in August and a 13-14 mark in September.
Guillen's crew wasn't officially eliminated until Sept. 24. But when they returned on Sept. 4 from an 11-game road trip to Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Wrigley Field with a 3-8 record and a 4 1/2-game drop in the standings, they basically were a beaten group.
In a weird but unwanted similarity to 2007, Buehrle's momentous event turned out to be the season's greatest accomplishment.
"I bet you Mark Buehrle would trade that perfect game for 20 wins and a Cy Young, because he knows," Guillen said. "He'd rather be in the playoffs."
Here's a look at the up-and-down 2009 season that was for the White Sox, filled with individual success but not enough victories:Record: 79-83, third in the AL Central. Defining moment: Holding a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the third at Fenway Park on Aug. 24, Jose Contreras appeared to be in good shape with two outs and Alex Gonzalez on first. But Contreras walked Victor Martinez, hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch and then muffed David Ortiz's slow roller toward first for a run-scoring error. By the time the third inning was over, Boston had scored six and taken a 7-4 lead. By the time the game came to an end approximately four hours later, the Red Sox owned a 12-8 victory. And by the time this 3-8 road trip for the White Sox through Boston, New York, Minneapolis and Wrigley Field mercifully finished off, the South Siders were out of the AL Central race. What went right: Beckham surpassed the expectations attached to the No. 8 pick overall in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, arriving with the White Sox almost one year to the date of his selection. Beckham took over a third-base position on June 4 that he barely had played previously and led all AL rookies with 63 RBIs, 28 doubles and 43 extra-base hits. ... Jake Peavy returned from a partially torn tendon in his right ankle, suffered while with San Diego, and a sore elbow caused by a line drive during a Minor League rehab start on Aug. 24, to make three quality starts and provide a future glimpse at what promises to be a deep starting rotation. ... John Danks (13-11) and Gavin Floyd (11-11) proved their 2008 breakout performances were no flukes. ... Matt Thornton emerged as one of the game's best setup men, recording 24 holds and 10.82 strikeouts per nine innings. He also put himself in consideration as a possible closer's candidate for 2010, although the White Sox still have the steady Bobby Jenks under contract. ... A.J. Pierzynski continued to show his durability behind the plate, reaching the 1,000 innings caught milestone for an eighth straight season. Pierzynski also matched his own franchise record for the most hits by a catcher in a single season at 150. ... Chris Getz proved to be cut out of the "grinder" mold sought after by the White Sox, playing solid defense at second, adeptly handling the bat at the bottom of the order and picking up 25 stolen bases in 27 attempts. What went wrong: The defense was one of the AL's absolute worst. The 113 errors committed by the White Sox stood second only to the Royals' 116, and the team gave up 69 unearned runs. ... Jermaine Dye had arguably his most disappointing half with the White Sox, with a $12 million mutual option looming ahead of him and the team for 2010. One of the game's steadiest hitters since 2005 managed just three homers and 13 RBIs in his last 43 games and batted .180 after the All-Star break. ... Adding Alex Rios off a waiver claim from Toronto on Aug. 10 didn't provide much of an offensive boost. Rios performed well below his career averages by hitting just .199 in 41 games with the White Sox, contributing a mere three home runs and six RBIs. ... Peavy suffered a 2 1/2-week setback after taking a line drive off his pitching elbow during that Minor League rehab start on Aug. 24. ... Carlos Quentin didn't come close to duplicating his 2008 Most Valuable Player-caliber numbers, as he was bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot and ensuing right knee soreness. Quentin dropped to a .236 average, with 21 home runs and 56 RBIs. ... Fields was marked as the heir apparent to Joe Crede at third base. But the White Sox weren't satisfied by Fields' early defense or the poor defense of backup Wilson Betemit and Fields' lack of contact at the plate, facilitating the move to Beckham. ... The team baserunning often was game-changing, but primarily in a negative way. Biggest surprise: Scott Podsednik was sitting at home in West, Texas, when the 2009 season started, watching baseball on his couch, as a man without a team. But he made the most out of the second chance given to him by the White Sox, leading the team with 48 multihit games and 30 stolen bases and proving to be a viable leadoff force. He arguably was the White Sox Most Valuable Player with the bat and one of their more durable starters.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.