CHICAGO - When Mark Buehrle toes the rubber at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday night, he'll not only be returning to where his career began. He'll be pitching where he flourished for 12 seasons and placed himself in the conversation amongst the best White Sox of a generation.
"I'm sure it'll be different," said Buehrle. "I'm going to try to make it not too different for myself, going to treat it like it's another game. I'm sure there's going to be some emotions, just different feelings, obviously pitching and getting on that mound for the first time in a couple of years. I'm just going to go out there and try to get outs."
Buehrle pitched in Chicago from 2000 to 2011. Here are the most obvious points in his long list of accomplishments:
- 161 wins
- World Champion, 2005
- August 18, 2007: No-hitter versus Texas.
- July 23, 2009: Perfect game versus Tampa Bay
He has gained the respect of his manager, coaches and teammates in Toronto for being a down-to-earth veteran, someone who's willing to help younger players better acclimate to the major league experience.
Judging by the size of the media horde which welcomed him on Friday afternoon, he's clearly missed for many of the same reasons he's come to be appreciated in Toronto.
His mound opponent on Saturday, John Danks, is six years Buehrle's junior and broke in with the White Sox in 2007. The two were teammates for five seasons. They texted often as the game approached.
"He's trying to make bets," said Buehrle. "I told him betting was illegal in baseball."
Niceties aside, Buehrle is looking to turn around a season which, for both himself and his team, began so promisingly. The left-hander won his 10th game on June 1 and has but one victory since. In his last 12 starts dating to June 7, Buehrle is 1-7 with a 4.76 ERA. Of late, he's been worse, throwing into the fifth inning only once in his last four outings.
"He's not doing a lot of things differently," said pitching coach Pete Walker. "I think a lot of the balls seem to be finding holes to be honest with you. I think he's left the ball up a little bit more than he was earlier in the year. Maybe there was a little bit of fatigue at some point."
The Blue Jays entered Saturday's action four games behind the Mariners for the American League's second wild card spot. Detroit was in between; the Jays trail the Tigers by three games.
As many clubs as Toronto is chasing, there are more nipping at the Jays' heels, including the Yankees, Indians and Rays. Of the three, Tampa Bay is furthest back of Toronto, trailing the Jays by merely one-and-a-half games.
With the team in a 3-10 tailspin for the month of August, Buehrle needs a bounce back start to inject life into a team that appears to be on the brink of a freefall.