If the talented southpaw already hadn't presented a strong enough case prior to Thursday's 4-1 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, he clearly made his point during the White Sox sixth straight victory overall and sixth straight on the road, dating back to June 19 in Cincinnati.
Buehrle (8-2) was efficient yet dominant, not issuing a walk over 8 1/3 innings and recording 11 outs via grounders. Buehrle took a shutout into the ninth inning, before softly hit doubles from Alberto Callaspo and David DeJesus scored Kansas City's only run and brought closer Bobby Jenks (19th save) into the game.
"I gave him the chance to get the shutout. It was a good thing it didn't happen, because I could have a chance for Bobby to pitch and he hasn't pitched in five days," said manager Ozzie Guillen of Jenks' first appearance since June 27. "But the bad thing is I wanted Buehrle to get the shutout.
"When you got Buehrle on the mound, you [may] not always win, but you always have a good chance to have a good game."
Chances for that good game increase when Buehrle faces the Royals (33-45). Factoring in Thursday's near-spotless effort, Buehrle improved to 20-8 lifetime against Kansas City and 10-6 at Kauffman Stadium. The 20 victories are second in his career only to the 23 held by Buehrle over Minnesota. The 10 wins at Kauffman Stadium tie the Metrodome as Buehrle's kindest away venue.
According to Guillen, Buehrle didn't look especially sharp in the first couple of innings. He yielded one-out singles to Willie Bloomquist and Mark Teahen in the first and second, respectively, but both were promptly doubled off first on hit-and-run fly balls on which they could not return to the bag fast enough.
Kansas City manager Trey Hillman also noticed that Buehrle's command wasn't as pinpoint as usual over the first two innings.
"From the third inning on, he did [have control]. It's a recognition issue, an issue of trying to do too much," said Hillman. "You've gotta be primed to swing the bat against a Buehrle, because he's very efficient. But we needed a little more patience the first couple innings."
The offense for the White Sox (41-38) didn't do much against Kansas City starter Bruce Chen (0-2), but it didn't need to do much with Buehrle on the mound. Jayson Nix homered leading off the fourth, with his sixth long ball ranking him second in that category among AL rookies.
Nix, playing in place of injured shortstop Alexei Ramirez, added a single in the sixth, meaning 12 of his 21 hits this year have gone for extra bases. Nix's average reached .244 after Thursday's effort, but he clearly has a great impact when he successfully puts the ball in play.
|"In our little stretch, we've been getting good pitching, good hitting and good defense. Everything is working for us."|
|-- Mark Buehrle|
"That's a tough thing to do when you are not playing every day," said Nix of trying to find a rhythm at the plate. "I try to recreate it somewhere early in [batting practice] or wherever I can, doing the best I can to stay ready."
A.J. Pierzynski's double-play grounder scored Jim Thome in the seventh, after Thome reached when DeJesus lost his double to left in the lights. Scott Podsednik's run-scoring single off reliever Ron Mahay, bringing home Brian Anderson, added a run in the eighth, and Gordon Beckham drove home an insurance run in the ninth with his fielder's-choice grounder.
Thursday's win moved the White Sox into sole possession of second place in the AL Central, sitting one-half game ahead of the Twins and 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers. They also moved three games over .500 for the first time this season.
It was another complete effort turned in by the visitors, who are 14-4 over their past 18 road games and have an 8-1 record in their past nine games overall.
"In our little stretch, we've been getting good pitching, good hitting and good defense," Buehrle said. "Everything is working for us."
Everything worked for Buehrle, who even changed the grip on his sinker in the bullpen prior to the start because Pierzynski said the pitch had been cutting more than sinking in his previous two starts. It was one of the best sinkers the southpaw has had in a while, by Buehrle's estimation.
DeJesus' leadoff at-bat was the only three-ball count Buehrle faced all night. Buehrle threw 100 pitches, but he never had more than 15 in an inning and featured three innings of fewer than 10.
Yes, it was an All-Star effort by a starter who deserves to pitch in his hometown for the 2009 Midsummer Classic. The White Sox rotation before the break could be rearranged to give Buehrle two starts, including a trip to the mound for the first-half finale at the Metrodome on July 12.
Regardless of the alignment, in typical Buehrle fashion, he's ready to pitch whenever he gets the ball -- whether it's for the White Sox or the AL squad on July 14.
"I'll pitch whenever they have me pitch here," said Buehrle, who has made three previous All-Star appearances, but did not pitch in Pittsburgh in 2006. "If I get honored to go [to the All-Star Game] and I can or I can't pitch, well, I can't control that. But the more wins I have, the better chance I have."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.