Mark Buehrle was afraid White Sox fans might boo him if he pitched well in his first start at U.S. Cellular Field as a visitor.
The 35-year-old did pitch well Saturday for the Blue Jays, but not well enough to draw the ire of the South Side faithful.
Instead, Buehrle received a standing ovation before the game and, despite his fears, received another when he was relieved with one out and the lead in the sixth inning.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen let him down shortly thereafter, and he didn’t factor in the decision in the Jays’ 6-3 victory.
“I had a little more nerves and a little more emotion than I originally thought I was going to,” Buehrle said. “The reception I got, I was thinking it would be good, but what they did every time I ran out, it was exceptional.”
Buehrle’s teammates let him walk to the mound alone and soak in the moment before the bottom of the first inning.
The fast-working left-hander motored through the first five innings and didn’t allow a runner to reach third base. It was vintage Buehrle, luring Sox hitters into groundouts and flyouts with pitches in the high 70s and low 80s.
“He’s the perfect example of a guy who doesn’t have to light up the radar gun to be effective,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
“He works fast, he continues to throw strikes and he is not afraid of contact.
“He was always pitching in the zone and knew how to throw a strike when he needed to and miss when he needed to also. He’s never been afraid to be in the zone, even if he’s not throwing 95.”
Buehrle needed only 59 pitches to get through five innings, a milestone he failed to reach in his previous two outings.
But he ran into some trouble in the sixth, when Alexei Ramirez led off with a single, and the Jays weren’t able to turn a double play on Gordon Beckham’s grounder to first base.
Jose Abreu and returning right fielder Avisail Garcia followed with singles, and Buehrle was done for the night. He tipped his cap and thanked the cheering fans on his way out.
“I actually texted [Paul] Konerko and apologized and said: ‘Hey, I hope no one’s [ticked off] on the team that I tipped my hat walking off the field,’ ” Buehrle said.
“I don’t know what the rule is as far as being a visitor and tipping your hat.”
Jays reliever Dustin McGowan threw a wild pitch and promptly allowed both inherited runners to score on a sacrifice fly by Dayan Viciedo and a single by Konerko, denying Buehrle his 12th win.
The game didn’t stay tied for long. Matt Lindstrom relieved starter John Danks in the seventh and gave up four consecutive base hits and three runs. Several Sox fans saved their boos for the right-handed reliever.
The Sox’ offense was quiet over the last three innings.
But at least this time, Sox fans could take solace that they were stymied by one of their own.
“When we got back here yesterday,” Buehrle said Friday, “driving to the city and out in the suburbs where I lived for 12 years, just staying out there, everything felt normal, like I never left. Just going to grocery stores, everything I did when I was here for so long the last day and a half. It feels great.”