July 23, 2009

To the delight of 28,036 fans at U.S. Cellular Field and one very famous fan in the White House, Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle became just the 18th pitcher in baseball history to throw a perfect game on Thursday when he blanked the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays 5-0 in Chicago.

Buehrle's postgame press conference was interrupted because a call was coming in from the White House. President Barack Obama, an avowed White Sox fan, found out about Buehrle's gem in Cleveland while heading to Air Force One for a flight to his hometown of Chicago.

Obama called Buehrle to congratulate him. The President told the pitcher it was "an extraordinary achievement," according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

"As a fan it's extraordinary," Obama told Gibbs before Air Force One took off from Chicago. "When you're a White Sox fan and I know the guy, it makes it even more fun."

The President had spoken to Buehrle at the All-Star Game in St. Louis last week, and also joked that perhaps wearing his White Sox jacket to toss out the first pitch that night brought Buehrle a little bit of luck.

Some of Buerhle's AL teammates kidded with him that the President threw harder than he does, but Buehrle's soft fastball and array of breaking balls was more than enough to shut down the Rays on Thursday.

Buehrle retired Jason Bartlett on a routine ground ball to short for the final out, then put his hands on his head in disbelief while he was instantly mobbed by teammates. Just moments before Buehrle's gem was saved by a spectacular, history-saving catch by centerfielder Dewayne Wise, who had been inserted for defensive purposes in the top of the ninth just moments before. Wise sprinted back to the fence in left-center field, tracking a line drive hit by Gabe Kapler. Wise leaped and stuck his glove over the fence and snow-coned the ball, then juggled it before securing it with his bare hand while tumbling to the ground.

"I was hoping it was staying in there, give him enough room to catch it," said Buehrle. "I know the guys were doing everything they could to save the no-hitter, the perfect game, whatever it might be," Buehrle said.

For the second out in the ninth, Buehrle recovered from a 3-1 count to strike out catcher Michel Hernandez, one of six K's on the day for Buehrle then got Bartlett to ground to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. His teammates quickly mobbed him while the crowd erupted in cheers.

"I'm surprised as can be I threw that," Buehrle told CSN afterward. "I don't even know what to say. Unbelievable."

"I don't know how to explain it," he added. "Never say never."

In typical Buehrle fashion, the game lasted just 2 hours and 3 minutes. Buehrle threw a season-high 116 pitches and went to a three ball count on just four batters. He was 3-0 to just one, Bartlett, in the sixth inning. Buehrle recovered to get Bartlett to ground to short, just as he would three innings later to finish the gem.

Until Wise's catch in the ninth, there were no heart-stopping defensive plays needed to keep Buehrle in line for history. Pat Burrell nearly doubled down the leftfield line in the eighth, but the ball went just foul, and Burrell then lined softly to third baseman Gordon Beckham.

Working with recently-acquired catcher Ramon Castro for the first time, Buehrle got some pre-game advice from A.J. Pierzynksi, his usual backstop. "He was like go out and throw a no-hitter. I was like for what, I've already got one of those. He was like, well then go throw a perfect game."

Buehrle did, the first by a White Sox pitcher since Charles Robertson in 1922. He became just the fifth pitcher in history to throw both a no-hitter and a perfect game, having previously held the Rangers without a hit on April 18, 2007 and it is the first in major league baseball since May of 2004 when Randy Johnson retired all 27 Atlanta Braves.

"In the coaches' room, everybody was in tears," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. " It can't happen to a better guy, a franchise kid, organization man, can't be a better guy to be around."

It is the first time a reigning league champion has been victimized by a perfect game since Don Larsen shut down the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. The Rays entered the game with an offense ranking in the top five in virtually every category, including runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. "He's thrown no-hitters against two pretty good ballclubs, especially today," said Guillen. "That makes you a little more excited about it. To me he's one of the most underrated pitchers in the American League the last 10 years."

Buehrle moved to 11-3 and lowered his ERA to 3.28. For the moment, he also moved the White Sox into a virtual tie atop the AL Central with the Tigers, who lost to the Mariners Thursday afternoon. The White Sox go to Detroit for a series starting tomorrow.

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