05/09/2002 01:49 am ET
Heat, humidity fine with Buehrle
Tosses gem against Rangers for sixth win
By Jimmy Greenfield / MLB.com
ARLINGTON, Tex. -- With a chinstrap beard that brings Abraham Lincoln to mind and a carefree demeanor that would have served him well during the days of Dizzy Dean, White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle is a throwback in every sense of the word.
To get a glimpse of Buehrle now is to watch a good pitcher who may become great, partly because he won't say he's at his best even when he's winning game after game after game.
Wednesday night was different.
Buehrle's candor is always refreshing, so to hear him describe his most recent outing when he threw seven innings in a 5-3 victory over Texas it didn't come off as cocky or arrogant, just honest.
"This is probably the best I've felt...," Buehrle started before correcting himself. "I know it's the best I've felt this year."
With a Texas-sized rainstorm brewing, there was a thickness in the air that gave Buehrle an advantage similar to what some pitchers from long ago may have had years ago when the spitter was still legal.
"My hand felt real sticky tonight," he said. "I don't know if it was the humidity or what. The ball just felt real good. I had a real good grip on it, I think that's why my sinker and my change-up was working so good tonight."
How good was it working?
"This was probably the best I felt all of last year too," said Buehrle, who improved to 6-2 with the win to become the only six-game winner in the American League.
For those playing along you'll remember that Buehrle finished 16-8 last season with a 3.29 ERA after struggling almost the first two whole months of the season.
He was 1-3 with a 5.01 ERA after his start on May 20, and 15-5 afterwards.
But lost in that first two months was a game here in Texas that was wiped out by rain after three innings with the Sox leading 6-0. Buehrle was on the mound, and he hadn't allowed a hit when the game was called.
Maybe there really is something to this humidity thing after all.
"It might have been," Buehrle said. "I don't know if we can really credit the weather for it. I like coming out of the game where I'm sweating, not sitting on the bench where I've got to be put a coat on and you're freezing.
"I'd rather go to the bench and be having to wipe sweat off you because it's so hot there."
There have been some hot pitchers on the South Side since Jerry Manuel arrived in 1998, including James Baldwin in 2000 when he started 10-1. But nobody has pitched as well for as long in recent memory as Buehrle.
"I'd have to say yes," Manuel said. "I can't recollect anybody else. Unless you come up with some different numbers I don't remember anybody else being as consistent as he is."
On the other end of the consistency spectrum Wednesday was Tony Graffanino, who started at second base in place of Ray Durham, giving him three starts at three different positions in the last four games.
He had filled in at third base for Jose Valentin against Oakland on Sunday, and for Royce Clayton at shortstop on Monday. Durham was sitting out with a bruised right hand but is expected back in the lineup on Thursday.
Graffanino might have been the best position player Wednesday, getting the offense going with the only two hits the Sox had through three innings and driving in a run on a sacrifice fly in the fifth that make it 3-1.
The White Sox traded for Graffanino one month after Buehrle was first called up to the Sox two years ago, about the time that 2000 team really started playing well.
The Sox are 21-13, a 1/2 game behind Minnesota in the American League Central, and still trying to figure out just how good they can be.
"I want to say we haven't really hit a groove," Graffanino said. "We're playing well but I don't feel like we're rolling like we were at some points during (2000). I think this is a better team balance wise, and the things that we can do. It's a better team."
Jimmy Greenfield covers the White Sox for MLB.com and can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.