Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Me and Mark Buehrle

Mark Buehrle has pitched in 371 Major League games since breaking in with the White Sox in mid-season 2000. During that time, I’ve seen 185 Sox games (including games at Wrigley Field, Miller Park, Safeco Field, the old Yankee Stadium and Nationals Park and 5 in the post-season), in which Buehrle started 21. Four (now six) stand out, all seen from Section 126, Row 9.

Opening Day, 2010

Drafted in the 38th round of the 1998 amateur draft, Buehrle was 21 when called up to the Sox. He started only four games that year but joined the rotation the following season and has been the Opening Day starter every year except 2007 from 2002 to 2011. His regular-season record in 365 games is 149 wins and 113 losses, with an ERA of 3.87. Buehrle is also 2-1 in five post-season series, including wins in the ALDS and ALCS in 2005. He also pitched one-third of an inning in relief in the 2000 ALDS.

Game 2, 2005 ALDS

The game against the Kansas City Royals on August 17, 2006, began inauspiciously, as lead-off man David DeJesus homered off Buehrle. Sox lead-off man Pablo Ozuna tied the game with a home run off Odalis Perez in the bottom of the inning. Buehrle again surrendered a round-tripper to Chicago native Emil Brown to start the 2nd inning, and Jermaine Dye returned the favor with a home run, knotting the score at 2-2 leading off the Sox’s 2nd. I thought this was a very rare occurrence, and in the 5th inning the scoreboard posted that it was the first time in baseball history that the lead-off men for both teams homered in the 1st and 2nd innings.I turned to my 94-year-old uncle Adolph (he’ll be 100 in January) and said, “See, all of these years you’ve been coming out to the ballpark [since 1921], and you still see something new.” It has not been repeated. The Sox went on to win, 5-4.

Once in baseball history, 2006

The following season, my cousin Jim offered me tickets for the April 18, 2007, game vs. the Texas Rangers (NOTE: I pay Jim for tickets because of the number of games). Although the forecast was for 40-degree weather, I still took two tickets (he offered four) for his seats five rows behind the first-base dugout. It took five phone calls before I found somebody to go (the others had other commitments), so I put on six layers of clothing, a scarf, hat and gloves and met my computer guy Dave at the ballpark. One young adult (I use that term loosely) behind us screamed from the opening pitch, and I heard him say, “I don’t know if I can keep this up all game.” He did, but by the end we didn’t care. Buehrle lost his perfect game in the 5th inning after walking DH Sammy Sosa on a 3-2 count.  He promptly picked him off first. By the 9th inning, the announced crowd of 25,390 was on their feet (the 39-degree temperature helped), as Buehrle had retired every batter since Sosa. The 27th Ranger hitter, catcher Bruce Laird, bounced a slow roller to Joe Crede, who threw to Paul Konerko for the 5-0 no-hit victory. I have four friends, one of whom was in Dallas that night, wishing they could have been there.

No hitter, 2007

I was in Brighton Park photographing some former synagogues on July 23, 2009, when my cousin Cathy left a message that they had an extra ticket for the afternoon game vs. Tampa Bay. I’d gone two nights before with Jim and considered buying a ticket outside the ballpark (never paid more than $20), but this would be better deal. While almost out the door, I turned back to get my camera. I had decided not to take it to the previous game; because this was a day game and I wanted to photograph the 2008 American League champions, the camera came along. As is the case when shooting a game from this vantage point, I photographed each opposing batter, usually during their first plate appearance. Little did I know after snapping lead-off man B.J. Upton that two hours later I’d be photographing a piece of baseball history.

B.J. Upton, July 23, 2009

Having seen Buehrle’s 2007 no-hitter and Gavin Floyd lose one with 1 out in the 9th to the Twins in 2008, I wasn’t overly excited as every single Rays batter was retired. By the 7th inning, however, people were on their cell phones, alerting friends and family to turn on their televisions; the rest of us were holding our breaths. I shot Buehrle walking to the mound to pitch the ninth and Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler getting ready in the on-deck circle, then put my camera down, not wanting to miss any of the on-field action. It looked like the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout were all over, as Kapler skyed a high fly ball to left-center field. Dewayne Wise, who had been inserted into center field for defensive purposes at the start of the inning, made a spectacular catch to rob Kapler of a home run. The final obstacle was Jason Bartlett, who although was the #9 hitter went on to bat .320 that season. Alexei Ramirez fielded the sharp ground ball and threw to Josh Fields for the final out (Konerko was the DH that day, and Fields' grand-slam home run was responsible for 4 of the 5 Sox runs), and the ballpark erupted. Using my long zoom lens, I fired away, hoping for the best. Buehrle and Wise hugged for about a second near the Sox dugout, and luckily I captured it. (NOTE: My set of game photos can be found at  

Buehrle and Wise, July 23, 2009

My final notable game involved just one play. Buehrle was breezing through the Opening Day game on April 5, 2010, the Sox leading 4-0. With one out in the 5th, Indians batter Lou Marston hit a shot that Buehrle attempted to stop goalie style with his left leg. It hit his shin and bounded into the first-base foul territory. Avoiding Marston, Buehrle crossed the base line, grabbed the ball with his glove and scooped it underhand between his legs to Konerko, who caught the soft toss barehanded for the out. It earned an ESPN Web Gem, credited as one of the best plays ever by a pitcher, and helped win the Gold Glove.

Replay, April 5, 2010

I haven't seen Buehrle pitch this season and, if the rotation holds, probably won't see him take the mound until June. Perhaps then he'll toss another masterpiece, earn another Web Gem or help make baseball history. If so, maybe he'll leave me a pass for the rest of his starts.

ADDENDUM: Buehrle set the MLB record for most wins in interleague play - 24 - with a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 21, 2011. Once again I was in Section 126, and once again I had my camera. Sadly, it also turned out to be the last game I attended with cousin Jim, who died suddenly on June 10 while on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. His sister Cathy and I attended what most likely was his final Sox appearence on September 27, 2011, a 2-1 victory over Toronto. Stay tuned for further updates.

May 21, 2011

ADDENDUM 2: On December 7, 2011, it was reported the Miami Marlins signed Buehrle to a 4-year $58 million contract, uniting him with manager Ozzie Guillen.

Leaving the mound after final White Sox appearence,
September 27, 2011

ADDENDUM 3: Buehrle's first appearence as a Marlin in Wrigley Field was a 4-2 loss on July 19, 2012. He gave up all 4 runs in his 5 innings. My photo set was taken five rows behind home plate.I wanted to get his first pitch but the screen screwed up my focus.

Buehrle's second pitch to lead-off man Reed Johnson,
July 19, 2012

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