CHICAGO – The 105th pitch of Mark Buehrle’s day broke in toward Gabe Kapler, who turned on it and connected. Buehrle looked up and knew – his perfect game was in jeopardy.
Just in as a defensive replacement, Chicago White Sox centre fielder DeWayne Wise sprinted toward the fence in left-centre, a dozen strides. What happened next would be either a moment of baseball magic or the ninth-inning end of Buehrle’s bid for perfection against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Wise jumped and extended his right arm above the top of the wall. The ball landed in his glove’s webbing but then popped out for a split second as he was caroming off the wall and stumbling on the warning track.
Wise grabbed it with his bare left hand, fell to the ground and rolled. He bounced up, proudly displaying the ball for the crowd.
Magic. A home run turned into an out.
His biggest threat behind him, Buehrle coolly closed out the 18th perfect game in major league history, a 5-0 victory Thursday.
“I was hoping it was staying in there, give him enough room to catch it. I know the guys were doing everything they could to save the no-hitter, the perfect game, whatever it might be,” said Buehrle, who has now thrown two no-hitters in his career.
Wise knew the stakes.
“I was with the Braves in ’04 and I was there when Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks pitched a perfect game. So I’ve been on both sides of it,” he said. “It was probably the best catch I’ve ever made because of the circumstances.
“It was kind of crazy, man, because when I jumped, the ball hit my glove at the same time I was hitting the wall. So I didn’t realize I had caught it until I fell down and the ball was coming out of my glove, so I reached out and grabbed it.”
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was happy he made the switch to Wise, who came in for Scott Podsednik.
“I guess that’s our job,” Guillen said.
Buehrle fell behind 3-1 in the count to Michel Hernandez, the second batter in the ninth, who took a called strike and then swung and missed at strike three.
With fans chanting Buehrle’s name, Jason Bartlett got ahead 2-1, then grounded to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who threw to first baseman Josh Fields. Buehrle put both hands on his head and was mobbed by teammates between the mound and first base.
“Never thought I’d throw a no-hitter, never thought I’d throw a perfect game, never thought I’d hit a home run,” said Buehrle, who has done all three. “Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen.”
The pitcher received a congratulatory telephone call from President Barack Obama – a White Sox fan – following the 16th perfect game since the modern era began in 1900 and the first since Johnson’s on May 18, 2004.
“We joked around, a 30-second phone call, and I’m like ‘What? That’s all he’s got for me?”‘ Buehrle said.
Obama, a lefty like Buehrle, wore a White Sox jacket when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at last week’s all-star game in St. Louis.
“I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it,” Buehrle said. “He said, ‘Congratulations, and it’s an honour. A lot of people are going to remember this forever.”‘
Obama had spoken with Buehrle – a St. Charles, Mo., native – in the AL clubhouse last week.
“As a fan, it’s extraordinary,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quoted Obama as saying. “When you’re a White Sox fan and know the guy who did it, it makes it even more fun.”
Backed by Fields’ second-inning grand slam, Buehrle (11-3) threw 76 of 116 pitches for strikes and fanned six in his second no-hitter, helping Chicago move within a percentage point of AL Central-leading Detroit.
Kapler understood his role.
“That moment was magical for both Wise and Buehrle,” Kapler said, “and most guys earn those moments.”
In a 6-0 win over Texas on April 18, 2007, Buehrle also faced the minimum 27 batters. He walked Sammy Sosa in the fifth inning of that game, then picked him off two pitches later.
“I bought everyone watches after the last one. That was an expensive no-hitter,” Buehrle said. “This one will probably be more expensive.”
Before the ninth, Buehrle needed no great plays behind him. In the fourth, Evan Longoria hit a line drive right at Ramirez. In the eighth, third baseman Gordon Beckham didn’t have to move to catch Pat Burrell’s liner.
“I’ve been involved in no-hitters before and you just have to move along,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just a loss, but it does impact the team that gets the win, I believe.”
Buehrle went to three-ball counts on five batters, including 3-0 to Bartlett in the sixth. Bartlett took the next two pitches for strikes, fouled one off and then hit a routine grounder to Ramirez.
As the shortstop threw to first, those in the crowd of 28,036, sensing history, cheered loudly.
With one out in the eighth, Ben Zobrist hit a weak grounder that just rolled foul and later popped out on a 3-2 pitch. The next batter, Burrell, lined one just foul to left, with third-base umpire Laz Diaz making an emphatic “foul” call. Burrell then lined out to third moments later.
The 30-year-old Buehrle became only the second pitcher to throw two no-hitters for the White Sox: Frank Smith did it against Detroit in 1905 and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1908. The only previous perfect game for the White Sox was by Charles Robertson at Detroit on April 30, 1922.
It was the second no-hitter against the Rays. Derek Lowe accomplished the feat for Boston on April 27, 2002.
Scott Kazmir (4-6) allowed five runs and five hits in sixth innings. In addition to Fields’ grand slam, Ramirez hit an RBI double in the fifth.
Toward the end, Buehrle’s wife Jamie was a wreck as she watched from the seats near home plate with four-month-old daughter, Brooklyn.
“I’m so proud of my husband, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “He just never ceases to amaze me. He keeps accomplishing more and more in his career.”
NOTES: The Rays placed RHP Chad Bradford on the 15-day DL with low back tightness and recalled RHP Dale Thayer from triple-A Durham. … After failing on their previous four attempts to go five games over .500, the White Sox succeeded. … Chicago activated RHP Bartolo Colon from the 15-day DL and optioned RHP Carlos Torres to triple-A Charlotte.