CHICAGO -- In one month from now, if the White Sox are unable to chase down the Tigers while holding off the Indians in the American League Central, Mark Buehrle might be taking his last trip to the mound as part of the White Sox.
The 32-year-old southpaw currently is operating in the final year of a four-year, $56 million deal. There's a chance that the humble Midwesterner and one of the icons of the organization might be pitching for someone else in 2012.
But when Buehrle started Monday for what turned out to be another stellar effort in a 3-0 victory over Twins, there wasn't an ounce of nostalgia crossing his mind. Buehrle was more focused on helping the White Sox put together a fourth straight victory than what his future held.
"To be honest with you, I'm not thinking about it at all," said Buehrle, who tied Doc White for sixth place on the franchise's all-time win list with 156. "I'll make five, maybe six starts, and after that fifth or sixth start, if we are out of it, I'll answer a few questions and go home and enjoy the offseason just like I do any other year."
Buehrle (11-6) furthered his already well-established White Sox legacy, as well as added to one of his top individual seasons in recent memory, by throwing 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the Twins (56-78). He struck out four, allowed four hits and walked two.
This 2011 version of the Twins looks nothing like the past Minnesota teams which gave Ozzie Guillen's crew a season's worth of nightmares with every setback. Not without Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Jim Thome, Delmon Young, Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker or Francisco Liriano.
On the flip side, Buehrle turned in an extremely familiar night's work against the division rival. Buehrle has thrown 30 2/3 innings against the Twins in 2011, allowing one earned run on 15 hits and five walks, while striking out 18.
"Every time he pitches, we say the same thing," said Minnesota third baseman Danny Valencia, who had one of the four singles off Buehrle. "He's a guy who works really fast, throws a lot of different pitches and he throws them all for strikes. We just had trouble getting good swings off him."
"We had a couple opportunities to get a big hit off of him, but we've seen him do that before," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire of Buehrle, who has a 27-19 career mark against the Twins among his overall 159-116 ledger. "He's just non-stop, keeps pouring it in there and pouring it at you. He shut us down. We had a couple chances and couldn't score."
Jesse Crain and Sergio Santos (27th save) assisted in Buehrle's victory, and he received enough offensive support from Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and Tyler Flowers, the White Sox who were with Triple-A Charlotte as recently as the middle of July. De Aza doubled off left fielder Trevor Plouffe's glove with one out in the second, swiped third and scored on Flowers' sacrifice fly.
Flowers doubled home Viciedo in the seventh, after Viciedo singled and was sacrificed to second by De Aza against Minnesota starter Kevin Slowey (0-3). And Viciedo's infield hit scored Alexei Ramirez all the way from second in the eighth, after Ramirez singled and advanced to second on Paul Konerko's long fly ball to center fielder Ben Revere.
It was an influx of energy needed for a team that has had trouble scoring runs.
"These guys are coming up fresh and excited, and I think we all feed off of them," Santos said. "They are bringing energy and different things to our game that I didn't think we had during the season."
"Look at De Aza out there running like crazy around these bases," Buehrle said. "He's getting on base for these other guys. It's only a positive and flows to the other guys."
Kansas City's victory in Detroit (73-61) moved the White Sox back to within five games of the AL Central's top spot, the exact spot they stood last Monday. They stayed one-half game ahead of the Indians (66-65), while moving two games over .500 for the first time since they were 7-5 on April 13.
Playoff hopes have not faded for the White Sox, not with six games left against the Tigers, starting this Friday at Comerica Park.
"One game at a time. We can't get too far ahead," Buehrle said. "We have a couple more with Detroit, and they are not going away. And they know we aren't going away either."
"You know, it's exhausting," said a smiling Santos. "But the thing is we are still five back and we still have a chance."
Monday's effort raised Buehrle's innings pitched total to 177 over 26 starts. He figures to reach his 11th straight year of at least 200 innings pitched and 30 starts, while already hitting double-digit victories.
Will that streak continue somewhere outside of Chicago? It's not a concern for Buehrle, who received an eighth-inning standing ovation in recognition of his work in helping the suddenly surging White Sox.
"No matter if I had 10 years on my contract, any time you get a standing ovation, you know you did your job," Buehrle said.
"Any time Burls gets on the mound, he's going six or seven and keeping them to two or three runs," Santos said. "It's nice knowing you have such a consistent guy and workhorse. He's one of the main reasons why we are still hanging around."