ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time the White Sox made the postseason, they won the whole thing in no small part to the strength of their starting pitching. Mark Buehrle is the one member of that rotation who's back for more this postseason.
Still, don't expect Buehrle to play the experience card as he prepares for Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Rays, who claimed a 6-4 win on Thursday to take a 1-0 lead. It means nothing to him if he can't pitch in the here and now.
"I'm not really sure if experience does anything," Buehrle said Thursday morning. "Obviously, in '05, not many people had experience on our team, and we went out there and played well and won the World Series. I mean, they're big games, there are a lot of pressure situations you're going to be in. But for a guy like me to go out there, I try not to put any more pressure on myself."
Yet on a Sox staff that pitched brilliantly in pressure situations over three elimination games in the regular season, Buehrle remains arguably the biggest big-game pitcher of them all. And for all the questions that will arise about Buehrle's road struggles this year heading into Friday's matchup at Tropicana Field, Buehrle taking the ball in a pivotal Game 2 isn't a surprise.
The fact that the White Sox needed strong pitching from Gavin Floyd and John Danks on Monday and Tuesday to get here pretty much necessitated Buehrle starting at Tropicana Field instead of at U.S. Cellular Field for Game 3 or 4. Before Floyd and Danks helped pitch the Sox into the postseason, Buehrle started the streak of three must-win victories over three different teams in three days by tossing seven innings of one-run ball against the Indians on Sunday.
That improved Buehrle's record to 11-3 in 17 home starts this year to go with a 2.65 ERA, averaging nearly seven innings per start. By comparison, he's 4-9 with a 5.05 ERA in 17 road outings, averaging about six innings.
Did You Know? The White Sox are now 4-17 on artificial turf this year, including Thursday's loss. They've lost 12 of those games by two runs or fewer.
The simple road splits, however, overlook his three-game road stretch in September at New York, Kansas City and Minnesota. All three were quality starts, and while just one resulted in a White Sox win, the other two kept them close enough to have a chance late.
After allowing three runs in his first two innings at the Metrodome on Sept. 24, he blanked the White Sox from there until he left after seven innings in what ended up being a 3-2 loss to the Twins, coupled with a 4-2 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Add up the home and road numbers, and Buehrle heads into the postseason with a 4-1 record and a 2.29 ERA in six starts over the past month. Two of those starts, including the must-win victory over Cleveland, came on three days' rest.
"A lot of people talk about [how the Mets' Johan] Santana and [the Brewers'] CC Sabathia come out on three days' rest for like, five different times. He did it, too, and nobody gave him any credit," manager Ozzie Guillen said of Buehrle. "I think the job he did, he was outstanding. I think the reason we are in the playoffs is because of the way he performed for a month."
This is also one road environment that could work to Buehrle's advantage, in part because of his ability to shut down the running game. While the Rays like to play to their speed at Tropicana Field, they'll be facing a veteran left-hander whose track record of picking off runners is well known.
The Rays were 1-for-3 in stolen base attempts in three meetings against Buehrle this year. They hit .316 off him, but he still tossed two quality starts against them.
Potentially most important heading into Friday, he kept Evan Longoria's bat quiet.
"From my standpoint, he's pitched me tough all year," said Longoria, 0-for-6 with a strikeout against Buehrle but who hit two homers in Thursday's Game 1 win. "So I'm going to have to do the things I've done to get myself prepared. These five-game series go so quickly, so I'm sure he's going to come with his best and we're going to have to do what we can to battle him."
He isn't afraid of battles, or speedsters, and he isn't normally shaken by road environments, either. He'll be prepared for the deafening roar of Tropicana Field.
"You just have to try to focus that and get it out of your head," Buehrle said Thursday. "You just want to make your pitches and try not to get too amped up or pumped up whenever the crowd is into it and you're falling behind the count -- try not to get too amped up and then overthrow."
If he can perform in this postseason like he did the last time he pitched in October, the White Sox should like their chances. After beating the Red Sox in the Division Series that year, his complete-game five-hitter over the Angels changed the complexion of the AL Championship Series. He lasted seven innings in Game 2 of the World Series before the White Sox came back for a victory in that one, then picked up the final out in relief in a 14-inning Game 3 win.
No one else from that dominant rotation is pitching for the White Sox this October. The only one still in the organization is Jose Contreras, out for the rest of the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Thus, Buehrle is the only one making his return. But he doesn't plan on resting on his experience alone.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.