Buehrle an unlikely candidate for no-no
Drafted in the 38th round in 1998, lefty pitches way into history
CHICAGO -- Peruse the five starters currently comprising the White Sox starting rotation.
Break down each pitcher's raw stuff and what he features on the mound, and then take a guess as to the one who would be most likely to throw a no-hitter. Mark Buehrle probably would be a notch above John Danks from the bottom of the list, partially because Danks is a rookie.
But there was the 28-year-old Buehrle, mobbed by his teammates on U.S. Cellular Field a little over two hours after he threw the first pitch of Wednesday's game against Texas, celebrating the 16th no-hitter in franchise history. Buehrle needed 106 pitches to make history, a typically efficient effort from the talented southpaw.
Buehrle finished the job against a good hitting Texas lineup, which features the likes of Mark Teixeira, Hank Blalock and Sammy Sosa, to name a few. It's also a team Buehrle has handled in the past, raising his career record to 9-3 against the Rangers, and earning a huge dose of respect from the opposition in the process.
"Good team, bad team, it didn't matter who he was going to be facing," said Teixeira, who finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "He was going to pitch well. I mean, he pitched great. I'd rather get no-hit by a guy with great stuff then lose 7-6 to a guy who we should have scored 10 runs on. Buehrle had great stuff."
"You want to get him, but he just kept pitching his game," Texas catcher Gerald Laird added. "You want to break it up, but when a guy has that caliber of stuff, it's tough to do."
Laird's slow roller to third baseman Joe Crede became the final out of Buehrle's gem. First baseman Paul Konerko said his only worry on that last play was that Crede would try to one-time the grounder and leave it on the ground, with those sort of situations almost always ruled a hit.
But every possible break went in Buehrle's favor on Wednesday, and it might be time that the left-hander's fortunes turned for the better. After being selected for his third All-Star Game in 2006, Buehrle finished the second half of the season with a 3-7 record and 6.44 ERA.
Those numbers didn't exactly improve during Spring Training. To make matters worse, Buehrle was struck between the left elbow and the left forearm by a Ryan Garko line drive during the second inning of his first start this season.
As Buehrle looked down in pain at his arm and saw a huge welt immediately popping up, he thought his season had come to a close before his first start was one hour old. Instead, Buehrle didn't even miss a start, and in his second start after the injury he became the first White Sox pitcher to throw a no-hitter at home since Joel Horlen did so against the Tigers on Sept. 10, 1967.
"I never really thought about the injury, but I never thought I would throw a no-hitter," said Buehrle, wearing a Virginia Tech hat during the postgame interview session, in memory of the tragic atrocity that took place on the campus this week.
"[White Sox athletic trainer] Herm [Schneider] and [assistant athletic trainer] Brian Ball did a great job getting me ready," Buehrle added.
Buehrle had full command of all his pitches on Wednesday, from his cutter to his curveball, and even topped out at 90 mph with the fastball. Not exactly no-hit sort of stuff on paper, but then again, on paper, Buehrle wasn't supposed to win 98 Major League games over parts of seven seasons as a starting pitcher.
When Buehrle played for Jefferson Junior College in Missouri, he likes to tell the story of how a scout approached him after a game to talk about possibilities of being drafted, and Buehrle immediately thought he was looking for one of his teammates. Selected as a draft-and-follow prospect in the 38th round of the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, Buehrle spent only parts of two seasons in the Minors.
This is the same pitcher who general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen have classified as one of their favorite players in separate conversations, with both adding they would like to have a team full of Buehrles. It's an individual who is earning $9.5 million in 2007, but seems completely unaffected by his success and ensuing stardom.
Until Williams cut short his theatrics, Buehrle was known to entertain fans during rain delays by executing a few well-placed tarp dives. The crowd in attendance on Wednesday night returned that support, cheering Buehrle's every pitch from the sixth inning and beyond.
"Just awesome," said Buehrle of the crowd. "I wanted to tell them to sit down and quit making me nervous [and] wait for the last out to get there."
Nervousness doesn't actually seem to be a word in Buehrle's vocabulary. Standard operating procedure for a no-hitter is to leave the pitcher alone with his thoughts in the dugout until the game is complete or the first hit arrives.
That's not how Buehrle rolls. He remembers telling reserve catcher Toby Hall in the fifth inning that he had a no-hitter in the works.
"Actually, it was the second or third inning," said Hall with a smile.
Going against the code didn't hurt Buehrle in this instance.
As his expectant wife, Jamie, sat in the back of the Conference and Learning Center after the game, Buehrle spoke eloquently of the night. He talked about having a little extra adrenaline and a case of knocking knees going back out for the ninth, and mentioned how he threw two innings of a combined seven-inning no-hitter when he was in high school.
There also was the very detailed description of the words exchanged between Buehrle and catcher A.J. Pierzynski minutes after Laird's groundout to third.
"I just kept saying, 'Oh, my god,'" Buehrle said. "I didn't know what hit me. Never in a million years did I think I would be able to have this happen."
"At least in the World Series, you can jump on the pitcher and get a good picture," added Pierzynski with a laugh. "But I didn't know what to do with this one. I didn't want to jump on him because I didn't want to hurt him with a lot of the season to go."
This question-and-answer session eventually turned to Buehrle's contractual status, as a potential free agent in line for a big contract after the 2007 season -- a big contract that might not be with the only team he has ever known. The inquiry was tied into Guillen's comment that Williams was the first one waiting to greet Buehrle in the clubhouse after the no-hitter.
"Why do you have to go there?" said an amused Buehrle to the reporter. "You think [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] wants to call me in the office and sign a deal right now?
"Even if I'm signed or not, Kenny is still rooting me on. Back in the training room, before the game, he said to go have some fun. I had as much fun as I could."
Fun for Buehrle is hunting back in Missouri or spending time with his family on his property in St. Charles. It's not fun for Buehrle to be in the constant media spotlight, but in the short term, he will have to adjust.
In the process of throwing the no-hitter, Buehrle also won a long-standing bet from teammate and friend Jon Garland as to who would make history first. Being in a magnanimous mood on Wednesday, Buehrle said he didn't plan to collect.
"If he doesn't get another guy out the rest of his life, he's still got a no-hitter," Konerko said. "It's like having a World Series ring. They can't take that away. That's the bottom line."
"I came up with him and I know how hard he worked off the field," Crede added. "It was special for me to see Mark get it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.