By Adam Hoge-
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) For four innings Thursday at Wrigley Field, Mark Buehrle looked exactly like the guy the South Side of Chicago fell in love with over a decade ago.
On the 12th anniversary of his first major league start, Buehrle changed speeds, kept Cubs hitters off balance, scattered a few hits, but faced the minimum for four innings — something he’s done for nine innings three times.
Yes, for most of his outing, Mark Buehrle looked exactly like the pitcher Chicago has come to know.
Then the fifth inning happened.
Buehrle allowed four hits and a walk in the fifth — including a solo home run to Alfonso Soriano — as the Cubs scored four times. And it could have been even worse had Austin Kearns not robbed Starlin Castro of a double with a nice catch in the left field vines to end the inning and Buehrle’s day after just 71 pitches.
“Everything was up in that inning and they took advantage of it,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said, before adding that Buehrle would have stayed in the game had he not been leading off the top of the sixth.
Simply put, the fifth inning was a reminder why the White Sox let their franchise pitcher sign with Miami in the offseason. Instead, they rewarded fellow left-hander John Danks with a 5-year, $68 million contract and inserted another lefty — Cy Young Award worthy Chris Sale — into the rotation.
Sure, with Danks on the disabled list — and struggling before he went down — it’s easy for White Sox fans to wish Buehrle was still wearing black pinstripes instead of whatever bright colors the Marlins are wearing these days. But Thursday’s start in the Marlins 4-2 loss to the Cubs was a reminder that money was probably better spent elsewhere for the White Sox. Whether or not that money should have gone to Danks is yet to be decided, but it is worth noting that Buehrle will be making more money per year in his four-year deal (four years, $58 million) than Danks will be in his five-year contract.
Save for Thursday and a few other starts, the former White Sox left-hander has earned it. Buehrle came into Wrigley Field having only given up three earned runs total in his last 28.2 innings. That hot stretch, however, ended after four clean innings Thursday.
“I was obviously trying to be a ground ball pitcher,” Buehrle, a veteran of Wrigley’s wind tunnels, said. “Trying to get ground balls. That wasn’t the case today. Got a lot of fly balls. That’s it. Chalk it up as a tough one and get ready for the next one.”
It wouldn’t be fair to judge Buehrle’s current effectiveness off one start. His ERA of 3.13 coming into Thursday’s start was only second to the 3.12 ERA he posted in 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series. But the start certainly represented the staggered ineffectiveness that has popped up in recent years, a big reason why the White Sox decided to pay its 27-year-old left-hander instead of the 33-year-old one.
That’s not to say Buehrle wouldn’t be better for the White Sox this season than Danks. Obviously any effective pitcher is better than one on the disabled list. But considering the White Sox’s financial state, giving $58 million to an aging left-hander in the American League didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The question is, did it make sense to give it to Danks? Unfortunately, keeping the big picture in mind, there’s no way to know the answer to that question right now.
Barring a surprising trade deadline deal — hey, the Marlins could be sellers now — the two sides will likely go on without each other until Buehrle retires. When that happens, there’s little doubt the borderline Hall-of-Famer will reunite with the South Side and have his number added to the outfield wall.
White Sox fans’ appreciation for the World Series winning pitcher could even be seen Thursday at Wrigley, where a number of Sox No. 56 jerseys were spotted in the crowd.
“A few cheers, a few boos,” Buehrle said about the fan reaction. “There were a couple times, as soon as I came out of the dugout to get loose, where there was some people cheering. Then when they announced my named it seems like it was half and half. Nothing crazy or nothing I wouldn’t have expected.”
It’s safe to say those cheers will be even louder when Buehrle comes home to South Side — whenever that may be.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.