Buehrle tosses no-hitter
Starter walks one, but picks off runner to face minimum
CHICAGO -- As the top of the first inning came to a close for Mark Buehrle during Wednesday's contest against the Rangers at U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox left-hander sarcastically pointed toward the heavens as he walked off the mound.
In his previous 17 starts, dating back to last season, Buehrle had allowed runs in the opening frame on 12 separate occasions and had an aggregate 9.56 ERA in the first inning his trips to the mound in 2006. At that early point of this memorable night, the White Sox knew something special could be in the works for their ace left-hander.
"We started teasing him that it was the first time he's done well in the first inning," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, after Buehrle completed the 16th no-hitter in franchise history during a 6-0 victory and the first no-hitter since Wilson Alvarez did the job in Baltimore on Aug. 11, 1991. Guillen, who sported a Virginia Tech hat along with Buehrle in the postgame interview session, had two hits as the White Sox shortstop in support of Alvarez.
"You never want to think it's going to happen early, get your hopes up and then have them come crashing down," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski added. "But the way Buehrle was mowing through them and cutting them up, it was amazing -- especially against a lineup that hit us hard in the past."
Actually, the Rangers (6-8) featured pretty much the same lineup that scored eight runs and launched three home runs during Tuesday night's victory. But there were no long balls or bloop singles against a vintage Buehrle, who struck out eight and fell one fifth-inning walk of Sammy Sosa short of perfection.
Buehrle promptly picked off Sosa from first base, meaning he faced the minimum of 27 hitters.
"Doesn't it count still?" said Pierzynski with a mischievous smile of Buehrle's pickoff giving him the perfect game.
"Sammy is still a good hitter," added Buehrle of the five-pitch walk issued to Sosa. "I wasn't trying to walk him, but I wasn't giving in either."
A stretch of 20 straight batters in a row retired by Buehrle, dating back to his start last Wednesday against Oakland, came to an end with the one-out walk to Sosa. According to Pierzynski, that particular free pass actually helped the no-hit cause because the specter of the perfect game wasn't hanging over their heads and they had a little more freedom to work Texas hitters in search of history.
Even with Buehrle's sheer dominance, mixing in a few curves with a sharp cutter, changeup and four-seamer thrown to both sides of the plate, Texas had three solid opportunities for hits. Jerry Hairston Jr. led off the third with a hard ground ball down the third-base line, which Joe Crede gloved with a diving attempt and then fired a strike over to first from foul territory.
Crede's throw beat Hairston's head-first slide literally by a hand. It was a call Hairston disputed, eventually getting ejected by first base umpire James Hoye. Replays indicated Hoye made the correct call.
"I thought it was going to be a foul ball, but I dove for it anyway," said Crede of the Hairston play. "I went and looked at the replay and he was out on the replay. It was a good play and the momentum switched on our side at that point."
"[That play was] as close as you can get, but he was out," White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko added. "I looked at that play 10 times after the game. He was out by a hair, and I'm not saying that because I'm on this side."
In the second, Hank Blalock lofted a fly ball toward the Texas bullpen in right field before Jermaine Dye caught the drive leaning against the wall. Although Dye wasn't sure if the drive would have cleared the fence, he used every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame to make the play.
Blalock also had a hit taken away again with two outs in the fifth, as Tadahito Iguchi dove into the hole between first and second and threw out the Texas third baseman from the right-field grass. If Sosa hadn't been picked off, Iguchi probably would have been shaded more up the middle in search of the double play and Blalock's ball certainly would have gone through.
"I'm going to put the ball in play and won't strike out a bunch," Buehrle said. "I need defense behind me."
Dye aided Buehrle's cause with the bat, launching the sixth grand slam of his career in the fifth inning. Dye battled Kevin Millwood through six foul balls on a full count, before lining pitch No. 11 into the White Sox bullpen.
Jim Thome chipped in two solo home runs, giving him three in two games, and raised his career total to 477. Thome now sits alone in 24th place all-time, passing Stan Musial and Willie Stargell. But Wednesday's game was all about Buehrle.
His previous low-hit game was a one-hitter at home against Tampa Bay in August 2001. The most recent White Sox flirtation with a no-hitter was Sept. 13 of last season in Anaheim, when Freddy Garcia came within four outs of a perfect game before Adam Kennedy's single to center.
Matt Kata struck out looking to start the ninth and Nelson Cruz went down swinging. Gerald Laird, who entered 4-for-9 lifetime against Buehrle, tapped the final out down to Crede at third, who slickly gloved the slow-roller and fired a strike to Konerko.
"Once he came up, I could see him kind of gather himself," said Konerko of Crede's final play. "Once he looked at me and set on me, picked up the target, I was like, 'We got it.'"
The no-hitter ended with a celebration on the field and three or four celebratory showers for Buehrle. It began with a rare showing of first-inning dominance, previewing great things to come for Buehrle.
"Finally," said Buehrle with a smile of his first-inning success. "I'm more happy that I got out of the first than throwing a no-hitter."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.