Reflecting on Buehrle's magic moment
Teammates enjoy being a part of historical night in Chicago
CHICAGO -- All of the White Sox biggest moments in recent franchise history seem to have one common bond: Paul Konerko.
Sure, the White Sox captain contributes mightily with his bat and his glove, not to mention his even-keel clubhouse leadership. But Konerko has become the team's equivalent of the human victory cigar, as he has been involved in every deciding play leading to a major celebration in the past three seasons.
In 2005, Konerko caught a line drive at first base in Detroit to clinch the American League Central title. He also handled throws on the deciding plays in the American League Division Series against the Red Sox and the American League Championship Series against the Angels before snaring Juan Uribe's laser to finish off a four-game World Series sweep of the Astros.
And on Wednesday night, there was Konerko again over at first base, grabbing Joe Crede's throw on Gerald Laird's slow roller to third, capping off Mark Buehrle's first career no-hitter and the 16th in franchise history. Konerko claimed to have given the ball to Buehrle, or did he?
"Yeah, I switched balls quickly. I'm giving this one to [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] again," said Konerko with a smile, referring to the special moment at the 2005 White Sox victory parade when he gave the ball from the final out of the World Series to Reinsdorf.
"I like catching it, but not so much fielding," added Konerko, who did present the ball to Buehrle.
Konerko's involvement was one of the many hidden treasures stemming from Buehrle's masterpiece. It started at 7:11 p.m. CT with a called strike on Texas leadoff man Kenny Lofton, and before the night was complete, Buehrle had received a beer shower from a number of his frenzied teammates shortly after hugging his wife, Jamie, in the stands and kissing her stomach for their unborn child.
After the top of the seventh inning, Konerko noticed that Buehrle had only 83 pitches and told the left-hander that he might as well "finish it." At that point, Konerko wasn't even completely aware of the no-hitter.
"It was, 'Finish it,' like get the complete-game shutout," Konerko said. "I got on the bench, and then I got nervous. Time really slows down, but I felt good about it after the top of the eighth."
Rarely at a loss for astutely constructed commentary regarding the game, Konerko originally had trouble verbalizing the significance of Buehrle's night. It serves as a galvanizing force, a moment of camaraderie, with six or seven of the White Sox players sitting in the clubhouse long after the final out was recorded and enjoying a few libations while talking about the night.
Ask seven different individuals associated with the team about no-hitters, and you get seven separate interesting yarns. Manager Ozzie Guillen had two hits in support of Wilson Alvarez's no-hitter at Baltimore on Aug. 11, 1991. He also mentioned memories of a no-hitter thrown against the White Sox by Kansas City's Bret Saberhagen and the one from the White Sox Joe Cowley against the Angels on Sept. 19, 1986.
"Joe Cowley, that was the ugliest one," said Guillen of Cowley's no-hitter that featured seven walks. "Last night was the only time I was nervous, because last night I was out of the game. I couldn't contribute."
Jermaine Dye, who contributed his sixth career grand slam and a catch against the right-field wall, talked about his no-hitter in high school that had nine free passes. Closer Bobby Jenks threw three in American Legion baseball, while pitching coach Don Cooper hurled a no-hitter while pitching at the Class A Minor League level and watched three or four more as a Minor League coach.
Even Crede tossed one in his younger days on the mound.
"Mine was a five-inning no-hitter I threw in high school," said Crede with a laugh. "We 10-run ruled them. Nobody knew I threw one but my head coach."
Then, there's the paradox of nerves amongst the no-hitter process. Players didn't want to jinx Buehrle by talking about the possibility, although Buehrle began talking about making history in the second or third inning.
Yet, with the game on the line in the eighth or ninth inning, with every moment having a chance to decide Buehrle's fate, White Sox players wanted the ball hit directly at them. Getting the baseball was firmly planted in Crede's mind when Laird stepped to the plate in the ninth.
"Absolutely. That was the only thought going through my head," said Crede.
"With those righties up, I'm saying, 'Hit ground balls to the left side.' You feel good about that," Konerko added. "Especially when Laird was up, I was like, 'Joe, all day right here.' Then when he hit it, I was like, 'Not that one.'"
Of course, Konerko's worries concerning Laird's slow roller were unfounded. Lost in Wednesday's hoopla was the fact that Buehrle seems to be putting behind him the second-half struggles from last season. Over his last 15 innings, Buehrle has allowed four baserunners in total and one solitary hit.
Buehrle has better velocity, with his fastball topping out in the low 90s, and an improved chasm in velocity between that fastball and his changeup. His combined command makes for potential tough times ahead for opposing hitters.
Wednesday's excitement wasn't so much about Buehrle's comeback. Instead, it was a piece of baseball history that seems to jog the memory of even the most veteran of players and add another chapter to their mental scrapbook.
"I'm happy for him that he nailed that down," said Cooper. "He has been working a lot harder, focusing a lot more -- and determined to correct the last three months of last season. It's another nice memory built here."
"Last night was something special for him," Guillen added. "But it also was special for the team."
"If the pitchers can keep that up every game, it would be a lot easier to defend. Plus, the game would be over in two hours," added White Sox second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who made a no-hitter-saving play on Hank Blalock's fifth-inning grounder, through translator David Yamamoto. "I'm glad that we are not the ones being no-hit."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.