Perfect game showcases Buehrle’s talent

And we thought Mark Buehrle’s season highlight would be the All-Star Game, where he greeted the White Sox Fan in Chief and received a warm ovation from the St. Louis crowd.

Then came Thursday afternoon on the south side of Chicago, when Buehrle’s perfection reminded us that he belongs in any discussion of this decade’s best pitchers.

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Some two years and three months after no-hitting the Texas Rangers, Buehrle threw the first perfect game for a White Sox pitcher since 1922 in a 5-0 victory over Tampa Bay.

So maybe it’s time to revisit how fans across the country view Buehrle, a left-hander who was born in the Midwest (St. Charles, Mo.), lives in the Midwest (yep, still St. Charles), has spent his entire big-league career in the Midwest, and has never seemed to get the credit he deserves.

He’s been so good that his name should be included on grade-school spelling tests from Oak Lawn to Oak Forest.

Buehrle takes no-hit caliber stuff to the mound on a regular basis — just not like Randy Johnson, who, incidentally, was the last pitcher to complete the rare no-hitter/perfect game combination.

Buehrle’s brilliance is in an ability to repeatedly put the ball where hitters can’t do much with it. He throws a ton of strikes. He rarely walks people. He works so quickly that, when I turned away from the TV to note the second strike on Michel Hernandez during Thursday’s ninth inning, I heard Hawk Harrelson’s HE GONE before I could look back.

He’s a very popular figure in the White Sox clubhouse, liked and respected by coaches, teammates, opponents and reporters alike. But he’s never craved attention or promoted himself. He just pitches, and he does it better than pretty much everyone else.

And since we’re on the subject, let’s take a look at the résumé he’s built:

  • One world championship.
  • Two victories in postseason play, including one complete game.
  • Four All-Star selections.
  • 133 career wins since his debut in 2000, ranking eighth (with Roy Halladay) in wins during the 2000s according to STATS LLC, just 10 behind decade-leader Johnson.
  • And now the rare no-hitter/perfect game combination, something only seven pitchers in modern baseball history have accomplished.

    Remember, too, that Buehrle, 30, is a relatively young pitcher — especially by the standards of left-handed starters.

    Kenny Rogers, a similar lefty in some respects, won 166 games after his 30th birthday. If Buehrle does the same thing, he will finish his career with nearly 290 victories and be on his way to Cooperstown.

    Really, though, Buehrle shouldn’t need to win that many games in order for people to see his worthiness for the Hall of Fame. For him, 260 or 270 might be a more reasonable number.

    Think about the mitigating circumstances at work here: Buehrle has spent his entire career in a hitter-friendly park, particularly during the summer months, on a pitching staff that didn’t have a true lights-out closer until Bobby Jenks arrived midway through the 2005 season.

    He also pitched in the American League during the steroid era, leading us to wonder how many home runs he allowed to juiced players.

    But hopefully we’ll have to wait many years before viewing Buehrle’s career in the past tense. If his career resembles that of Rogers or Jamie Moyer, we’ll have the pleasure of watching him pitch into his 40s.

    Ten years from now, we might be wondering if Mark Buehrle is among the best pitchers of that decade, too.