Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Death, Taxes, and Mark Buehrle: The King of Consistency and the Stretch for History

by Jimmy Bobowski

For those that know me, it’s no surprise that I’m writing about Mark. Again. After I started following the White Sox more closely after the 2000 season, I took a vested interest in the guy with the blonde cheek beard. It was mesmerizing. This guy didn’t have the physical gift that many front offices look for: a huge arm. He thusly went drafted in the 38th round of the 1998 draft after attending a junior college. Probably not a likely candidate for major league success. About two years after he was drafted, he had on a White Sox jersey, helping them win their first division title in seven years.
Buehrle has been one of the most consistent pitchers of the current era, even if he hasn’t been a top pitcher. Ever. In fact, he received Cy Young votes in only one year: 2005. Still, going into this year, he had an opportunity to do something that no one has ever done in MLB history.  200 Innings Pitched. 10 wins. 30 games started. Okay, sure, the more qualifiers that you add, the more likely you are to find something that has never happened ever. But these numbers impress me.

200 IP = pitching enough innings to save your bullpen
10 Ws = pitching long enough and effectively enough to get your team a W
30 GS = pitching every five days so your team doesn’t have to worry about the rotation

For whatever reason, this never happened. Greg Maddux. Roger Clemens. Cy Young. No one. Just some pitcher from Missouri that can barely hit 90 on the radar gun.

Buehrle is going to be the pitcher I have the most stories about, attending many games throughout the 2000’s and canceling my evening plans any time he pitched. This is a guy who lead the AL in WHIP in 2001, to giving up the most hits in four different seasons after that.

No one would ever expect that a soft-tossing pitcher would pitch a no hitter, especially for a pitcher that preaches pitching to contact. Get weak contact, hopefully it’s right at a fielder, repeat. I had been listening to a game while driving to a friend’s lacrosse game, listening to the game between different drives. I had no idea what was going on until my drive home when the 27th out occurred and Ed Farmer screamed through my car “A no hitter! Buehrle has pitched a no hitter!”

Last friday, Buehrle pitched in game 160 of the 2015 season to get him to 198 IP against the Rays. Shortly after, it was announced he would also start in game 162. Starting two games out of a three game series. That’s so Buehrle. The game started out pretty innocuous. Error. Force out. Single. Single. Bases loaded, but things are fine. Nothing was going to stop him from getting his two innings. After all, he has always been a quick-working pitcher who could find his way out of a jam.

I attended an afternoon game in which Mark Buerhle was scheduled to start against Ichiro and the Mariners. We had family plans later that day, but decided to attend this game anyway. What happened that day? Well, he decided to give up only three hits with Ichiro collecting them all. Paul Konerko hit two solo home runs and the Sox won 2-1. What’s so important about that game to me? Length of game: 1:39. Yeah, that will never happen, again. I’m pretty sure there are an hour of commercials in a game already.

The bases were loaded with one out on Sunday. Buehrle had been struggling with the strike zone so far, but six outs should be easy to get. He was able to cut off the next Rays batter for a light popup to his 1B, but the ball went in and out of the glove. Error. Run scores. 2-0 Rays. He got the next batter to pop up in foul territory for the second out. No worries, a weak grounder or popup ends the inning. Only one more out to get. Next batter: strike, ball, ball, ball, ball. Forces in a run. 3-0 Rays. Two outs.

A few years back, I had planned to get tickets to a getaway day game that Mark Buerhle would pitch against Tampa Bay. However, my girlfriend at the time had to work that afternoon so we decided to go to the Monday night game. That still wasn’t going to stop me from watching him pitch, even if I was on the couch. So that’s what I did: woke up at 1 PM, turn on the game, and it was that game- 27 up, 27 down. A perfect game. I am still bitter about this day.

Alright enough romance, hunker down, let’s get this. 3-2 count to the Rays DH.

Uh-oh. 

Hit hard. Deep to center field. 

A grand slam. 

6-0 Rays. All six runs unearned.

The end of the story nears, but it doesn’t get better. A double, followed by a single. Toronto's manager, John Gibbons came out for a second time in the inning. This time it was for a pitching change. At 198 2/3 innings, the streak had ended. Mighty Mark Buehrle had been pulled from the game.

More of Jimmy's work can be found at www.jimmybobowski.com

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