By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) — The first game Mark Buehrle pitched at as a visitor in Chicago Saturday night turned out to be a no decision.
The iconic former Sox pitcher was removed with the tying runs on base and one out in the sixth. As the Toronto bullpen surrendered the lead, Buehrle was more relieved than upset that his night of dealing with raw emotion was over with.
White Sox fans began cheering for the pitcher as he came out of the bullpen session that precedes every starters game.
“I had a little more nerves and a little more emotion going than I thought I was going to,” said the classy left-handed Missouri native. “As soon as I came out of the dugout the fans were chanting and going crazy.”
The response by the 29,000-plus fans was certainly to be expected. After all you had a player who threw two no-hit games, (one a perfect game ) and led the White Sox to their first World Championship in 88 years returning to pitch for the first time a an opponent.
“Mark Buehrle is a great person and a valued friend,” said Paul Konerko, who was a teammate of the pitcher for the twelve seasons Buehrle pitched on the South Side of Chicago. “I was not comfortable facing him the first two times I faced him and I doubt I ever will be.”
Buerhle felt the same way about facing Konerko and second baseman Gordon Beckham both played in the pitchers perfect game on July 23 2009.
“I don’t think it was easy to pitch to them,” said Buerhle. “It felt a lot more crazy being in this stadium. I was joking around saying it was kind of hard walking to left side visitor’s dugout after the first inning. I don’t think it will ever be easy, even facing Beckham who was a teammate here.”
At 36, the pitcher who has never missed a start or been on the DL, admitted aging on the mound can be a humbling experience. Buerhle was removed after just 75 pitches in the sixth inning.
“It is tough to know you’re not in your prime,” said the pitcher. “I know I am getting older and wearing down a little bit more. It is a tough pill to swallow. At the same time I told (the manager ) I still hope you have confidence in me too keep sending me out there.”
Buerhle hit the wall in late July. After starting the season 10-1, he has a 1-7 record since June. The veteran pitcher has one year remaining on a four year $56 million deal he signed with Miami before the 2012 season.
After retiring most likely after 2015, Buerhle will have his uniform retired and a statue erected at U.S Cellular Field. “Come on all,” he said to me when I asked him about those special days in the future. I am looking for my next start to go deep in the game. I am not looking that far ahead.”
You can bet the White Sox fans are looking forward to the day they can call this popular icon their very own once again!