CHICAGO – Fine, Mark Buehrle. You were as cool as a minesweeper while you chased a perfect game Thursday afternoon. Wonderful. But did you ever once consider the emotions of those around you? No, you did not.
You joked with teammates as the innings clicked by obediently at The Cell, even though baseball tradition demands that a cone of silence surround a pitcher while he’s in the middle of a no-hit attempt.
“I don’t even remember what I said – he talked to me,” said Jim Thome, who spoke with Buehrle in the dugout in the ninth inning. “You try to avoid guys when they’re throwing a no-hitter. I guess it says a lot about him that he’s that relaxed during that time.”
Mark, your complete disregard for the feelings of others knows no limit. Take your poor wife, Jamie, who was sitting in a seat near home plate. What was she feeling? Joy? Pride?
“I was trying not to throw up, pretty much,” she said.
And yet there you were, Mr. Buehrle, throwing a perfect game against one of the best-hitting teams in baseball, the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays, and all the while looking as if you didn’t have a care in the world.
In the eighth inning, the Rays’ Pat Burrell ripped a ball that almost struck third-base umpire Laz Diaz. Diaz left us hanging for a second before signaling a foul ball in the exaggerated pantomime of a Jack Black or a Jackie Gleason.
And what was your reaction, Mark Buehrle? You smiled. Easy for you, but the crowd of 28,038 alternated between cheering and relearning how to breathe. Then you induced Burrell to line out softly to third baseman Gordon Beckham to end the eighth.
You were in pursuit of 27 outs from 27 batters, and you seemed intent on toying with everyone while you did it. That was the amazing part of this day. There is nothing overpowering about you as a pitcher to begin with, but on a mostly sunny Thursday, you threw a steady offering of curveballs, sliders, sinkers and change-ups.
You threw a no-hitter once before, in 2007 against Texas, and the thought then was that the gods had smiled on you, a man with the touch of a trophy engraver. No-hitters are supposed to be the realm of men who throw the ball 95 mph. You’re lucky to hit 89.
“His ball moves a lot,” catcher Ramon Castro countered. “It’s tough to hit that ball. He doesn’t throw anything straight.”
Heading into the ninth, Castro fretted in one corner of the dugout while his pitcher sat in the other, joking with Thome and the others.
“You get nervous, you get excited for him,” said A.J. Pierzynski, who has caught Buehrle most of the time this season. “Ninth inning, I came up to him, I was like, ‘Hey, you have three more outs. Let’s go, you’re going to do this.’ He was just laughing, like always.”
If it was history you were after, Mark, it looked to be history with a shrug: Don’t sweat it, dudes, because I’m not.
You ran out for the ninth inning to a standing ovation. While Castro put on his catcher’s gear, you threw your first warm-up pitch to Pierzynski, who promptly threw the ball over your head. More slapstick to relieve the tension. Thank you for that.
What happened next was one of those big plays every no-hitter requires. But this one was ridiculous. When Gabe Kapler, the first hitter of the inning, connected on one of your pitches, there was a palpable oh-dear-Lord-no feeling in the ballpark. The perfect game was done for, the no-hitter was a good idea gone bad and happy days were no longer here again.
But Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had done a smart thing to start the inning, inserting Dewayne Wise in center field and moving Scott Podsednik to left. When the ball left Kapler’s bat, Wise started running. And he kept running. He ran until he slammed into the wall in left-center, grabbed what would have been a home run, bobbled the ball and somehow held on.
And you, Mr. Perfect Game? What were you thinking after Wise’s catch?
“So much stuff has to happen for a no-hitter or a perfect game” was your assessment later.
In the interview room afterward, you were back down to earth. You had wiped off the shaving cream your teammates had slathered on your head and face. You had hit the mute button on your emotions. You smiled.
No runs, no hits, no errors, no walks, no baserunners and six strikeouts in a 5-0 perfect game. Oh, and another stat: one president of the United States waiting to congratulate you by phone. There were reports you might have even experienced a goose bump, Mark.
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