DUNEDIN, Florida - There are only three pitchers in Major League Baseball history who've thrown a perfect game, a no-hitter (separate from the perfect game) and won a World Series with the same team.
The first two are among the who's who of all time pitching greats: Cy Young (Boston Americans) and Sandy Koufax (Los Angeles Dodgers). The third is Blue Jays' lefthander Mark Buehrle, who accomplished the feat with the Chicago White Sox.
The world championship was won in 2005; the no-hitter was thrown on April 18, 2007; the magical day, that perfect day, came on July 23, 2009 and almost resulted in a week for the ages. The Tampa Bay Rays were the opponent and funny thing, Buehrle initially didn't like his stuff.
"I think I started off in the bullpen, I was pretty much the worst I'd been all year," said Buehrle, who'd never pitched before with the man who would catch him, Ramon Castro. "I remember cutting the bullpen kind of short because I couldn't throw the ball where I wanted to."
Buehrle, one of only 23 pitchers to throw a perfect game, started by retiring B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford on groundouts and striking out Evan Longoria to end the first inning. It was the southpaw at his efficient best, except it meant a little more: Buehrle had been struggling early in starts, allowing first inning runs in two of his previous three outings.
Chicago scored four runs in the second, three more than the White Sox would need that day, and it wasn't until the middle innings that Buehrle started considering the possibility of throwing a perfect game.
"You really don't start thinking about it until the fifth or six inning," said Buehrle. "The crowd starts getting into it a little bit more and so as each inning went by obviously I knew what I had going on. I was joking with guys, I was up in the clubhouse after the eighth inning, looking at A.J. (Pierzynski) next to me and kept saying, 'Are you kidding me, is this really happening, there's no way!' I'm not really in to that whole jinx thing so I was out there talking it up."
Cue the ninth inning for proof it takes more than a pitcher to throw a perfect game. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen made an outfield defensive substitution, replacing slugger Carlos Quentin with Dewayne Wise, who took his spot in centre field. Gabe Kapler led off and launched a 2-2 pitch to deep left-centre. Wise had a bead on the ball, hustling to the warning track. Wise timed a leap perfectly against the fence and robbed Kapler of a home run. Two outs later, Buehrle had authored his way in to history.
"I was telling myself, 'man I'm this close to it, just let me get it,'" said Buehrle. "And (Wise) saved it for me, pretty much, with that catch."
Fast forward five days to July 28, the White Sox on the road in Minnesota, for Buehrle's next start. Three up, three down went the Twins in the first. Once more in the second. Then again in the third, the fourth and the fifth. Buehrle, in the back of his mind, wondered if he may become the first pitcher to ever throw back-to-back perfect games.
"Each inning went by and once the second or third inning went by and I was perfect I kept on looking around, telling myself, 'There's no way, what's going on right now,'" said Buehrle.
It was not to be. He walked Minnesota's Alexi Casilla with two outs in the sixth. The count was 3-2. Buehrle remembers he threw a changeup, the pitch he'd turned to many times during the perfect game, a pitch that would betray him in the moment.
Buehrle set the major league record for consecutive batters retired – 45 – which still stands. His White Sox teammate, then-closer Bobby Jenks, had previously held the record of 41.
"He was down in the bullpen and at the time we broke it," said Buehrle. "I was looking down at the bullpen and having some fun with him, joking around."
Now 33, Buehrle's goal when he broke in with the White Sox in 2000 was to "stay in the big leagues." Mission accomplished. In 12 consecutive seasons Buehrle has won at least 10 games (including 13 in each of the past four years) and pitched more than 200 innings.
"One goal coming in to every season is to go 200 innings," said Buehrle, who unlike most pitchers doesn't throw in the offseason. "One, you know you're going to be healthy. Two, you know you're going to be pitching somewhat good enough to go deep in to games and you're going to give yourself a better chance to win the longer you're out there. Wins take care of themselves, you've got to have a lot of stuff happen for you, but (pitch) 200 innings and everything else will come out good."
Ricky Romero, a fellow left-hander coming off his worst year in the major leagues, has gone to Buehrle for advice. Buehrle has challenged Romero to cut back on the walks (Romero and San Diego's Edinson Volquez co-led the majors with 105 walks in 2012).
"I think I just tell people, if they ask, a lot of times you can't concentrate on what you just pitched or if you just gave up a hit or a home run," said Buehrle. "You have to concentrate on what the next pitch is because you're going to get yourself in to trouble (if you don't).
"If you throw a changeup in the dirt and it bounces 40 feet and you're frustrated and you're thinking about that your next pitch then you're probably going to throw another ball. Whatever just happened, throw it out the window and get ready for your next pitch. Obviously I'm going to give up hits and give up home runs, you don't like doing it, but you can't focus on it because you're only going to get yourself in more trouble."
- Dustin McGowan threw off a mound for the first time since last March 25. So, how did it go?
"Good, better than I thought," said McGowan.
The 31-year-old right-hander admitted to nerves and estimated he threw close to maximum effort. He threw predominantly fastballs, mixing in the odd changeup. McGowan's next hurdle is to wake up Wednesday morning with as little pain as possible.
Once a top prospect, McGowan has had two shoulder surgeries (2008, 2010) and was shut down last spring with plantar fasciitis. After recovering from the foot injury, McGowan didn't get in to a game in 2012 due to continued arm problems.
McGowan's progress is somewhat surprising, considering he suffered a setback in mid-February.
- Sergio Santos had soreness in his triceps after Sunday's one inning appearance in Clearwater. He used his slider to strike out two Phillies, including Ryan Howard. Pitching coach Pete Walker wants Santos to focus on his changeup next time out.
"It's coming along nice," said Walker. "I think we're going to emphasize that in the next couple of outings and get an opportunity for him to use that a little bit more and maybe stay away from the slider a little bit right now."
Santos, coming off shoulder surgery, initially was scheduled to pitch an inning against the Orioles on Thursday in Sarasota. However, his next game action has been pushed back to Saturday, in Dunedin, when the Blue Jays host the Tigers.
- Casey Janssen will throw his second bullpen session of the spring on Wednesday. Like Santos, Janssen is recovering from shoulder surgery. He threw 20 pitches, mostly fastballs, on Sunday during his first side session.
- Colby Rasmus (right shoulder) won't return until Thursday at the earliest. Rasmus hasn't played since last Wednesday. He injured his shoulder during a batting practice session.
- You'll notice a change at Rogers Centre when the season starts. Windows Restaurant, hardly used for many years, is gone. The windows have been removed and the area has been converted into a patio-style bar overlooking the field.
- Manager John Gibbons spent the off-day, Monday, at the theatre watching Silver Linings Playbook. He highly recommends the flick.
- The Blue Jays play the first of three consecutive road games on Wednesday, making their second visit to the Tigers in Lakeland.
Brandon Morrow will get the start, and is scheduled to throw three innings.
Aaron Loup (1 inning)
Brett Cecil (1)
Ramon Ortiz (1)
David Bush (1)
Tommy Hottovy (1)
Michael Schwimer (1)