Commentary

Buehrle flies under the radar in return

White Sox fans should miss the understated, underappreicated lefty

Updated: July 19, 2012, 10:59 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Before Thursday's rubber match loss to the Cubs, Ozzie Guillen gave a few reporters a brief instruction on how to get famous.

"You know how you get famous in this country?" he said. "You (screw) up. You do good, no one cares about you. You (screw) up, you're famous."

Guillen has seen both sides of his fame debate, but I found that particular riff interesting, because it's similar to one he gave before Tuesday's game when a 20-minute media chat ended without one question about his familiar Mark Buehrle. There were plenty of questions about Guillen, of course, and one or two about Carlos Zambrano.

"Wait a minute," he said. "(Expletive) Chicago media. That's why people talk bad about Chicago media. How about Mark Buehrle? He's a nice guy, so no one say nothing about him, huh? All right, Mark Buehrle left Chicago in mourning, but you don't say anything about him. That (bleep) don't sell."

It's funny, because out of the three, and no disrespect to Guillen, Buehrle is the guy who deserves the most attention.

All Buehrle did was win 161 games with the White Sox, throw a perfect game and a no-hitter, get a win and a save in the World Series, tarp dive during rain delays, and pitch nearly 2,500 innings in his 12 seasons. And he did all this with guile, not power, pitching games that lasted as long as one of Guillen's monologues.

No DL trips, no drama.

Earlier this season, a story on a local website seriously debated whether Buehrle or Kerry Wood had a better career. I guess if you change the definition of "better" and "career," it's a valid debate.

Longevity has paid off. The left-hander finishes his deal with Miami and retires, as he always threatens to do, he will have earned around $137 million in his career. Not bad for a 38th-round pick who only hits 90 on an expressway.

Maybe it was a good thing there was no hype, as Buehrle didn't last very long in the Marlins' 4-2 loss to the Cubs. The left-handed vet cruised until the fifth inning, when he gave up four runs on four hits, starting with an Alfonso Soriano homer. Starlin Castro was a few feet from taking him deep, too. Buehrle was pulled for a pinch hitter in the top of the sixth after 71 pitches. Guillen said they needed the offense. It was a good call. Buehrle was laboring and the pinch hitter, Donovan Solano, tripled to lead off the inning You knew Buehrle was off when he walked Geovany Soto. Buehrle came in with just 18 walks in 120 2/3 innings. That's like two innings for Carlos Marmol.

"When Buehrle keeps the ball up in the strike zone, he's going to get hit hard," Guillen said.

Buehrle said his success through four innings was an illusion. He knew he didn't have much in the bullpen.

"Whole game, to be honest with you," he said. "Backdoor cutters were going in the dirt. First pitch, I was trying to get ahead, I was throwing them in the dirt like it was 0-2. Changeups, cutting on me, going high. I couldn't locate much today."

It was his first loss to the Cubs since June 22, 2007, but Buehrle had been on a nice little run over the past month, winning his last four starts, while giving up just three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings.

For the year, he's 9-9 with a 3.29 ERA in 19 starts, throwing a team-high 125 2/3 innings.

Buehrle's homecoming was diluted by Zambrano returning to his old stadium for the first time since getting traded for Chris Volstad and Ozzie's return to Chicago. He said he got some encouragement from fans as he wandered around downtown, and I spotted a few Buehrle T-shirts in the stands, but there wasn't much fanfare.

He was fine with that. Needless to say, the low-maintenance pitcher has fit in fine with the Marlins.

"Being around him day in and day out has that calming effect on you," said fellow starter Josh Johnson, who described himself as a "happy-go-lucky" pitcher.

As soon as Johnson started talking, Buehrle, sitting catacorner in the clubhouse, put on giant headphones.

"He's always putting up those numbers you want to see, ERA, innings, wins," Johnson said. "He gets it done."

Buehrle said he misses his old teammates, their families and the behind-the-scenes crew at the Cell, and they should miss him too. He priced himself out of their plans, signing a four-year, $58 million deal with Miami, even if he was more dependable than anyone on the staff. For a franchise that prides itself on loyalty, it's a shame that Buehrle could finish his career in Miami, where he is an afterthought.

Guillen likes to say he is the "real White Sox." Well, so is Buehrle.

"Obviously, I wanted to finish my career here," Buehrle said on ESPN 1000. "You spend so many years here you find a home and you have friends and everything here. In the beginning it was tough to leave but to be honest now it just feels like normal. It just feels like this is where I'm at and this is what I'm supposed to be doing. Looking back on it, it would have been nice to sign back here but the way the team was going, the money they had spent on certain guys, they couldn't spend any more money. That was just the route they had to go."

While they should miss him on the South Side, Buehrle was made for the National League. We just figured the lifelong Cardinals fan would end up in St. Louis.

"I like it a lot better," he said of the NL. "Facing a guy like me hitting, I don't know if you've seen my at-bats but they're not too good, and facing a pitcher instead of a DH it doesn't really get much easier than that. You still got to make pitches, you still got to make outs."

Buehrle didn't get the outs Thursday. But he wasn't worried. The Marlins never know what Ozzie is going to say, or when Zambrano will explode. But they know every five days, Buehrle will be there. And he will work fast. Thursday's game was 2 hours, 18 minutes, a getaway day special.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.