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At this time of year, losing a game is bad. Losing Magglio Ordonez would be intolerable.
As they awaited the result of X-rays on Ordonez's left index finger Friday night, the White Sox fell into too deep of a hole, even against a last-place team on pace to lose 119 games. Mark Buehrle pitched like he needed more than just one day's extra rest, losing 8-4 to the Detroit Tigers before 15,828 at Comerica Park in the opener of a three-game series.
Buehrle and his teammates are embarrassed to be 2-5 at Comerica, where the punch-drunk Tigers have gone 11-46 against everyone else. But they are relieved to know Ordonez should not have to miss much time after an awkward tumble in right field.
"When he ended up coming out, I knew it was something serious," Buehrle said. "If we had lost him, our playoff chances might have been out the window. But luckily it doesn't look too bad."
Ordonez tumbled while chasing Bobby Higginson's first-inning double. He waved to the dugout and, after a visit from manager Jerry Manuel and trainer Herm Schneider, left clutching his left hand.
There were fears of a serious hand or wrist injury, but X-rays at the stadium revealed no fractures. Schneider said the four-time All-Star is "day to day" with a hyperextended left wrist. Ordonez was not available for comment afterward.
"He never has called us out," Manuel said. "When you go out there, you know he has felt something or done something really abnormal. You have to be concerned when he says he can't bend [his finger], or whatever."
It was a night of small blessings for the White Sox, who are 2-2 on the trip and 26-15 since the All-Star Game. Because Anaheim defeated Kansas City 10-3, they remained percentage points behind the Royals in three-team AL Central race. Minnesota beat Texas 8-5 and now trails the leaders by a half-game.
Few expected the game's most effective left-hander to be Detroit rookie Nate Robertson (1-0), who earned his first major-league victory. Buehrle, who had lobbied unsuccessfully to pitch a day earlier against the New York Yankees, gave up eight runs on 10 hits in five innings.
Buehrle (11-13) insists he is physically fine. He said he would not have allowed five runs in the first two innings, including two on a long Higginson home run, if not for missed ball-strike calls by plate umpire Marvin Hudson.
But it is unsettling to see Buehrle have three walks and a hit batter (No. 9 man Warren Morris, on an 0-2 count) in the same inning. He had only three walks over 30 innings in his previous four starts.
Buehrle did not blame his lack of command on the extra day of rest that Manuel imposed on him. That being the case, the uncharacteristic performance would seem to validate Manuel's belief that Buehrle is fighting fatigue.
"He's not right, not quite right," Manuel said. "I've been watching him for five years. I know when he has these periods when he's not going to be sharp
when he has 100 pitches in six innings [last Saturday against Texas], that's not Mark Buehrle.
"I don't know how many innings he has, but he has answered the bell every day. The guys who have answered the bell every day are getting hit. The guys not getting hit are guys who at some point in time had a break."
Buehrle wrote it off as "one of those days." He can't afford many more, as he's penciled in to face Minnesota on Sept. 8 in the opener of a four-game series and Kansas City on Sept. 19 in the opener of a three-game series.
"The important thing is he is just going through kind of a lull period," Manuel said. "I wouldn't call it a dead arm or anything like that. It's just a little minor thing."
Knock on wood.