Inside Baseball

September 16, 2001

The Real Deal
The White Sox have turned up an ace in polished young
lefthander Mark Buehrle

Mark Buehrle and a half dozen White Sox rookie pitchers filed
into the visitors' clubhouse at Cleveland's Jacobs Field each day
last weekend wearing matching Hawaiian-style shirts emblazoned
with multicolored White Sox-themed images. It was part of a
late-season hazing ritual--the rookies had to wear the garish
garments everywhere they went for a week."It's not that bad when
we're all together," said Buehrle, who technically isn't a rookie
but was getting hazed like one because he's in his first full
major league season. "It's even a good conversation starter when
we go out. But if I'm by myself somewhere, I do feel I stand
out."

With or without traffic-stopping casual wear, the lefthanded
Buehrle's days of blending in are rapidly coming to an end. On a
team stocked with promising young arms--through Sunday, Chicago
had used a starter older than 25 in only 11 of 58 games since the
All-Star break--Buehrle (rhymes with early) has emerged as the
staff ace. Even after a rare rocky start, against the Indians on
Sunday, in which he gave up seven earned runs in four innings
without getting the decision, he was 13-7 with a 3.25 earned run
average, the second lowest in the American League (behind the
Mariners' Freddy Garcia). Buehrle, 22, had also held opponents to
a league-low .219 batting average, and his ratio of 2.0 walks per
nine innings was seventh best. "Being in the running for an ERA
title is pretty impressive for a young pitcher," says Chicago
manager Jerry Manuel, "but what says a lot about him is that he's
sustained a high level for an extended time."

This kind of performance was hardly expected when the White Sox
inserted Buehrle into their rotation at the end of spring
training. For one, he lacks a star pedigree. He was cut from the
team at Francis Hollow North High in St. Charles, Mo., in his
freshman and sophomore years, and his parents had to talk him
into going out again as a junior. After a season at Jefferson
(Mo.) Junior College he was drafted by the White Sox in the 38th
round in 1998. He was impressive enough in the minors to receive
a call-up in July 2000 and pitched well enough out of the bullpen
(3-1, 3.53 ERA) in the second half of the season to get a shot at
starting this spring.

With poise, a deceptive three-quarters delivery and impeccable
command, Buehrle has handcuffed opponents ever since, despite a
less-than-overpowering arsenal. (His fastball occasionally cracks
90 mph.) "He has a feel for pitching," says Manuel. "As the
league has figured him out, he's made adjustments."

Buehrle added two pitches, a cut fastball and a sinker, to his
repertoire after the season started. He also began throwing his
changeup, a pitch he used sporadically last year, much more. By
spotting all his pitches well and attacking hitters with strikes,
he keeps them off balance, getting outs without eye-popping
strikeout totals. He had only 114 whiffs in 193 2/3 innings, but
he'd given up four hits or fewer in 11 of his 28 starts,
including a one-hit shutout against the Devil Rays. He also put
together a streak of 24 2/3 scoreless innings in May and June.
"His stuff isn't overpowering, but he can be overpowering the way
he uses his pitches," says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko.
"He breaks a lot of bats and keeps hitters from getting
comfortable."

Manuel is so impressed that he has already declared that Buehrle
will start on Opening Day 2002. Buehrle, meanwhile, is still
trying to get used to seeing his name on the pitching leader
boards. "It's been kind of surprising to see BUEHRLE and not
MARTINEZ at the top of the ERA list," he says.

He may have to get used to it.

Red Sox Meltdown
Duquette at the Eye Of the Storm

During the Red Sox' 6-4 loss to the Indians at Fenway Park last
Thursday--their 10th defeat in 11 games--a fan held up a
hand-drawn sign on which Boston general manager Dan Duquette's
name was conspicuously misspelled as DAN DO-QUIT. Duquette, who
signed a two-year contract extension in June, isn't likely to
step down at the fans' behest, but calls for his head capped a
tumultuous and disastrous three weeks for the Red Sox. On
Aug.16, the day Duquette fired skipper Jimy Williams and gave
pitching coach Joe Kerrigan a two-year contract to manage
Boston, the Red Sox were 65-53 and trailed the Yankees in the
American League East by five games and the A's by only two in
the wild-card race. After losing their third straight game to
the Yankees on Sunday, they'd dropped 16 of 23 under Kerrigan
and tumbled out of the postseason picture, 13 games behind both
New York and Oakland. "It's terribly disappointing to fall the
way we did," Boston righthander David Cone said after losing 9-2
last Saturday. "We're in desperation mode right now."

The poor play on the field dovetailed with chaos in the
clubhouse. On Sept. 2 the Red Sox demoted the pitching coach who
had succeeded Kerrigan, John Cumberland, to the minors, a move
that led to Cumberland's quitting and to star shortstop Nomar
Garciaparra's highly publicized comment: "No wonder players don't
want to play here. This place is a f------ joke." That episode
was followed by a public squabble between Duquette and Pedro
Martinez over the condition of Martinez's right shoulder.
Duquette asserted that Martinez, who'd spent from July 27 to Aug.
26 on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, was healthy
enough to pitch the rest of the season. Martinez responded by
saying that he had a slight tear in his rotator cuff and that he
thought it best not to pitch again this year. Martinez clearly
was hurting during his start against the Yankees last Friday--he
lasted only three innings--and on Sunday, Kerrigan pulled the
plug, scratching Martinez from his scheduled start on Wednesday
against the Devil Rays and saying that the pitcher was finished
for the year unless the Red Sox made it back into playoff
contention. It was a decision that should have been made long
ago.

As chaotic as things were, they could become even more unsettled
during the off-season. The Red Sox are for sale. Last month six
potential ownership groups submitted nonbinding bids for the
team, the first step in a process that isn't likely to be
completed before the end of the calendar year. Boston spokesman
Kevin Shea says the management of the team will remain "status
quo" until the sale goes through, but Duquette will most likely
enter the busy hot-stove season not knowing who his bosses will
be next year--or if he'll have a job. Given the Red Sox' flop
despite having the majors' second-highest payroll, the public
relations whipping Duquette has received for the Williams firing
and his frosty relationship with the players, it seems likely
that the new owner will bring in a new general manager.

If Duquette is perceived as a lame duck, luring free agents to
rebuild a roster in need of an overhaul this winter will be
exceedingly difficult. Further, if the sale of the Red Sox drags
on, Duquette may be left in place next season to run a team full
of stars that he has already alienated. For Boston fans, the
perennial cry of "wait till next year" may already have an
ominous ring.

On Deck
Hitless Parade

Sept. 17-19, Padres at Dodgers
Los Angeles should welcome this series amid a season-ending
16-game stretch in which it will face the Diamondbacks and the
Giants, the two teams ahead of L.A. in the National League West
and wild-card races as of Sunday, 13 times. The Padres, who have
been no-hit twice this year, owned the league's fourth-lowest
team batting average, .252, through Sunday. The Dodgers,
meanwhile, had surrendered the fourth-fewest hits and had held
opponents to the fourth-lowest batting average (.253). Plus, in
the first 13 games between the teams this season, no San Diego
hitter had batted higher than .294.

For scores, stats and the latest news, plus more from Tom
Verducci and Stephen Cannella, go to cnnsi.com/baseball.

COLOR PHOTO: STEPHEN GREEN

Coming On Strong

It's not how you start, it's how you finish--that's the mantra
hitters chant when they find themselves in a slump early in the
season. No one is finishing with more of a flourish than Rangers
outfielder Frank Catalanotto, whose .395 batting average since
the All-Star break through Sunday was by far the highest in the
majors. (Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners, with a .357 average, was
next best.) For the season Catalanotto, who batted .297 before
the break, was hitting .344, placing him second in the American
League batting race (behind Suzuki, who was hitting .349). Here
are the five hitters with the biggest jumps between their first-
and second-half averages among qualifiers for the batting title.

1ST HALF 2ND HALF
PLAYER, TEAM AVERAGE AVERAGE JUMP

Steve Finley, Diamondbacks .233 .345 .112
Catalanotto .297 .395 .098
Carlos Beltran, Royals .263 .351 .088
Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays .253 .327 .074
Kenny Lofton, Indians .237 .307 .070

SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)