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The greening of Comiskey Park comes complete with a green young left-hander named Mark Buehrle, the accidental ace of the White Sox.
The 23-year-old with the bleached blond hair stifled the Baltimore Orioles on Friday in the Sox's home opener to improve to 3-0 with the 5-2 victory.
Buehrle allowed one earned run on two hits in seven innings, while Jose Valentin, Sandy Alomar Jr. and Ray Durham all homered to put the Sox over .500 for the first time since Opening Day.
On a day the Sox showed off their latest ballpark renovations, including center-field shrubbery and ivy, Buehrle stole the spotlight. Buehrle repeated after the game that he'd prefer to wait a couple of years before being tagged as the Sox ace. But with a American league-leading 0.95 earned-run average--more than 3 1/2 runs less than the American League average ERA of 4.60--it's hard not to look at him that way.
"He's a very confident guy," Alomar said. "He has the swagger, you know, and the guy is good. You've got to give him credit. He backs it up."
Buehrle said in February his goal is to win 20 games, and if the Sox offense can give him any support, it looks like a good bet. After Buehrle's throwing error on a double-play grounder in the fourth led to an unearned run, Buehrle retired the next 10 men he faced.
Valentin's two-run homer off Josh Towers in the fourth gave the Sox a 2-1 lead, while Alomar led off the fifth with a first-pitch homer and Durham added a two-run shot off Towers (0-2) only three batters later.
"I don't want to face this lineup," Buehrle said. "And I know a lot of opposing pitchers don't want to either."
Buehrle has a "strange makeup" for a starting pitcher, according to Frank Thomas, which helps makes him so effective.
"He's just relaxed," Thomas said. "Most pitchers come in [the clubhouse] and you can tell they're pitching. With Buehrle, you can't. He's sitting around playing cards with the same guys. A lot of [starters] put their game faces on. With Buehrle, it's the same old thing."
Buehrle served up a solo homer to Marty Cordova in the seventh and came out between innings. After Gary Glover pitched a scoreless eighth, Keith Foulke came on and did his Halloween act again, scaring the daylights out of the crowd of 41,128.
With one out, Foulke gave up a single to David Segui and a double to Jeff Conine, bringing the tying run to the plate. But Foulke then struck out Tony Batista and induced Cordova to pop out to end it.
In his first opportunity to get acquainted with Sox fans, center fielder Kenny Lofton went 3-for-3 for his second straight three-hit game. The Big Three in the lineup--Thomas, Magglio Ordonez and Paul Konerko--combined to go 1-for-12, but the deep Sox lineup didn't miss a beat.
Valentin hasn't hit well since moving from the No. 2 spot in the lineup down to the No. 6 hole and entered Friday's game with a .188 average and no home runs. Though he's admittedly not comfortable yet in the bottom half of the lineup, Valentin is making adjustments on the fly.
"I definitely won't see as many good pitches as I did when Frank was hitting behind me or Ray was in front of me," Valentin said. "The only thing I like is I'm going to have a lot of opportunities to drive some runs in. But every time I'm in a situation like that, the pitchers aren't going to give me anything to hit, so I'll take a walk if I have to and make the guys behind me do the damage."
The Sox are leading the league with a .291 average, and the potential is there , especially when the weather heats up.
"Well, we had a tremendous team in 2000," Durham said. "We'll definitely have more speed this year. If our pitchers can keep us in the games, we definitely should win a lot of ballgames."