Buehrle steers Opening Day win
Lefty tosses seven shutout frames; Konerko, Rios homer
CHICAGO -- Remember the White Sox 2005 season? You know, when the White Sox won 99 games, put on an 11-1 postseason run and claimed their first World Series title in almost nine decades?
Well, that fun and excitement all began on April 4 at U.S. Cellular Field, with a pitching matchup between Mark Buehrle and Cleveland's Jake Westbrook. That particular pitchers' duel ended in a 1-0 victory for the South Siders.
Flash forward almost five years to the day, and it was Buehrle and Westbrook on the mound again for their respective teams Monday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. This victory was a bit more decisive for the White Sox, posting a 6-0 final before a sellout of 38,935 fans.
As is apparent from the score, Ozzie Guillen's crew won through a shutout and performed all facets of the game with a skill level that would have made the 2005 squad proud. It was truly a near-flawless opening effort.
So, could this Opening Day victory, the South Siders' second straight to start the season, be a harbinger of special things to come in 2010? It might be a little early to stretch this good feeling to such extreme distances.
"You want to win every game, but if we would have lost today, it's not the end of the world," said Buehrle, who broke the franchise record he previously shared with Billy Pierce with his eighth Opening Day start. "Just because we won and played the way we did, it doesn't automatically mean we are going to finish in first place."
"In the end of the day, it's only one win," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen with a smile.
For this one win, the White Sox showed off elements of their collective repertoire needed to make this season a success. Buehrle had a hand in the pitching end, giving up just three hits in seven innings, but he also turned in a defensive play in the fifth that might hold up over the next 161 games as the season's finest. Cleveland catcher Lou Marson hit a hard grounder deflected toward the first-base foul line by Buehrle with his left shin on a kick-save attempt, looking like a Blackhawks goaltender.
Buehrle chased the ball down and flipped it with his glove between his legs on the run, a dead-on throw grabbed by first baseman Paul Konerko with his bare hand. The crowd erupted, although Buehrle had no idea what really took place.
"It just kind of happened," said a laughing Buehrle, who threw 63 of his 95 pitches for strikes. "I didn't plan on doing that."
"I was talking to the second-base umpire Bruce [Dreckman]," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who had two hits, two runs scored and a great look at Buehrle's spectacular defense. "And he said, 'Turn off the cameras now, it's the best play of the year, first game.' Unbelievable play."
Konerko provided all the offense Buehrle needed with a two-out, two-run home run to right in the first inning on the first pitch from Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook and the first official pitch the White Sox captain saw in the 2010 season. Alex Rios added a solo shot in the eighth to complete the scoring.
These blasts marked the third career Opening Day homer for Konerko and second for Rios. Carlos Quentin, who was hit by a pitch twice, started the two-out, first-inning rally off of Westbrook with a double to right, and Konerko followed with a line drive just over the leaping effort of Shin-Soo Choo.
"Basically, it was to just be ready to hit, not to be passive, and look through the middle. It was a good swing," Konerko said. "I try to see a few pitches, but I want to be aggressive with guys on base. You don't want to let any good pitches go that are good to hit because that's your job to drive them in."
Mark Kotsay drove in a run with a third-inning groundout and brought home another one with a bases-loaded double play in the fifth. The White Sox aggressively took the extra base against Westbrook's wildness all game. Westbrook threw four wild pitches before exiting with the bases loaded in the fifth and nobody out.
Monday's victory pretty much was a blueprint for success to start this 2010 campaign. Only one Cleveland baserunner reached second base over Buehrle's seven innings, as he retired the final 10 hitters he faced, and relievers J.J. Putz and Matt Thornton struck out two apiece in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Rios ended the contest with an exclamation point through a diving catch in left-center on Travis Hafner's line drive headed for the gap. Was it shades of great things to come for this current team, just like 2005's 1-0 victory?
Not quite yet. It certainly was a hopeful start to what the White Sox believe can become a championship season.
"Even the little things were good," Konerko said. "It was how you draw it up. I mean, every facet of the game showed up and did well. It's never too early to get into good habits."
"Everyone puts too much importance on Opening Day anyways," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "But as long as we win it, especially the way we threw a shutout with our pitchers, it's a step in the right direction."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.