"We don't want Mark to be the first one to go," said White Sox reliever Matt Thornton, who threw two scoreless frames Tuesday against the Devil Rays, lifting the bullpen's string of zeros to seven straight innings. "I've been there before. You get rid of your ace, and basically you are throwing in the towel on the season."
Buehrle, who starts Wednesday's contest in Florida, has been the subject of countless trade rumors since the Cubs' weekend sweep of the South Siders at U.S. Cellular Field. General manager Ken Williams also mentioned on Sunday how 10 players on the current roster had been asked about by other teams.
As of Tuesday night's postgame, no deals had been remotely finalized. And the best way to keep this group in tact is to stretch the current two-game streak out to 10 or 11 victories in a row.
"I would like to hang one of those banners that Oakland has, that 20-game win streak," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski with a laugh, following his 2-for-4 effort Tuesday. "We just need to win games. We can't worry about what everyone else is doing."
"Or don't even think about it and not worry about it, because there's absolutely nothing you can do about it," added White Sox starter Jon Garland, who evened his record at 5-5, allowing one run on five hits over seven-plus innings. "It's either going to happen or it's not. You have no say so."
Garland had a voice in Tuesday's outcome, and with a noticeable return in velocity to the 92-93 mph range according to Pierzynski, the right-hander shut down the Devil Rays (33-42). He walked two and struck out three, facing only one real challenge in the seventh, when two singles and a hit batsman loaded the bases with two outs for Akinori Iwamura.
On a 2-2 pitch, Garland fooled Iwamura with a changeup to end the threat and strand the three base runners. Garland improved to 5-1 lifetime against the Rays and won for the first time since June 4, while also winning for the first time on the road since May 5 in Anaheim.
"He threw the ball great and make big pitches today," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Garland.
"There were some key pitches I made in big situations," added Garland, agreeing with his manager. "I worked off their aggressiveness a little bit."
After scoring two runs combined during the three straight losses to the Cubs, the White Sox (31-42) reached double-digit hits for the second straight game. They also set a season-high with five consecutive hits off of James Shields (6-3) during a four-run fifth inning and tied a season-best with six hits in the same frame.
That particular rally began with Scott Podsednik's infield hit and Shields' ensuing throwing error leading to a run scored. But the power punches in the inning came from Andy Gonzalez's first Major League home run and the 482nd of Jim Thome's illustrious career. Thome's 10th long ball of the season followed two pitches after Gonzalez's two-run shot to right field.
Gonzalez has five hits and five RBIs during the first two contests of this four-game set, reaching personal milestones via Monday's four-hit effort and Tuesday's home run. But the utility player supreme laughed when asked how it felt to be carrying the White Sox offensively.
"I don't think I'm carrying the team," Gonzalez said. "I'm just trying to get on base for the big guys, and I'm feeling good at the plate."
Of course, one step forward for the White Sox after 22 losses in 27 games didn't come without a comically tragic pitfall. Shields struck out 11, giving the South Siders 56 strikeouts in their last five games.
Reaching double-digits in strikeouts meant the 11,954 in attendance at Tropicana Field received another certificate for free pizza from Kane's Furniture. Leave it to Guillen's perfect sense of timing to not let this moment pass without a well-placed quip.
"Right now, we are not a good team, but we are great people," said Guillen, pausing before delivering his punch line. "Even when we beat the opposition, we donate pizza to the fans.
"I'm going to buy me a ticket tomorrow," added Guillen, who looked toward the stands and did his best pizza deliveryman impersonation after Shields reached 10 strikeouts. "I just start feeling bad for people who donate the pizza. They might go out of business. But I don't care if they strike out 100 times, as long as we win the game. You forget those strikeouts."
Another five or six wins in a row might help the White Sox forget the treacherous past two months. This group would at least settle for a series victory over the Devil Rays, with two more chances to win one game.
Then again, the more the White Sox win, the better chance they have of keeping the team together and silencing their nation-wide critics.
"Just find a way to get back on a positive note, so all these people stop talking about how bad we are on television," said Pierzynski with a wry smile.
"This team needs to figure out a way to make sure we stay together because there's not much time left before they might break this group up," Thornton added. "We still believe in each other."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.