When you think of pitchers throwing perfect games, Mark Buehrle wouldn't be one who comes to mind.
No disrespect to Buehrle's talent, but he is someone who is always around the plate with his pitches and seldom overpowers hitters.
The more times the ball is put into play, the more chance there is for a ball to fall for a hit.
But for 19 straight hitters Wednesday, Buehrle was perfect against one of the hottest hitting teams in baseball. Finally, Cleveland shortstop Omar Vizquel hit a 3-2 pitch into center field to end Buehrle's perfect-game bid with one out in the seventh inning.
"I felt good just going out there throwing everything for strike one," Buehrle said.
Despite giving up two hitsTim Laker singled to open the eighth inningBuehrle faced the minimum 27 hitters in his 90-pitch, 67-strike outing. He got a double-play ball to erase each of the singles.
Buehrle came into the game having allowed 152 hits in 1331/3 innings, which isn't an exceptional hits-to-innings pitched ratio.
"Buehrle is not a type of power pitcher and you have a good chance of getting hits because everybody who faces him, they're going to put the ball in play," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's the type of thing where we made a couple of nice plays behind him."
Juan Uribe made a couple of nice plays on ground balls to second, Aaron Rowand ran down Victor Martinez's drive to center field in the fifth and left fielder Ross Gload made a sliding catch on Coco Crisp's sinking liner in the sixth.
"The defense did the job behind me," said Buehrle, who raised his record to 10-3 with a 3.86 ERA.
Normally when a pitcher takes a no-hitter into the middle innings, he becomes an island in the dugout, with everyone staying away from him and certainly no one discussing the possibility.
That wasn't the case Wednesday night because it was Buehrle who was chatting away.
"I said something to [Jon] Garland in the fourth inning, I said something to Willie [Harris] and [Juan] Uribe in the sixth inning," Buehrle said. "I told everybody 'Just relax, it's no big deal, we'll win the game, and if I get it, good, but there's no reason to go out there and try extra hard and get hurt and have someone out for the rest of the year.'"
In fact, the only drama for most of the night was whether Buehrle would get the perfect game. The Sox offense pounded Cliff Lee, who came into the game with a 10-1 record and 3.81 ERA. The Sox scored three runs in the first, two in the thirdon the first of Carlos Lee's two home runsand six in the fifth.
Jose Valentin also homered as the Sox hit three home runs for the second straight night.
"We faced a pretty good pitcher in Lee," Guillen said. "That kind of offense against him, hopefully that's the beginning of a good stretch."
With the outcome decided, the crowd of 21,922 started turning their attention toward possible history.
Buehrle had just two strikeouts through six innings, but when he retired Ronnie Belliard on a grounder to Valentin at short, he stood eight outs away from the Sox's first perfect game since Charles Robertson on April 30, 1922 and the first no-hitter since Wilson Alvarez on Aug. 11, 1991.
"When they start squeezing the bat a little tighter, you have a shot," first baseman Paul Konerko said.
Buehrle ran the count full to Vizquel, not getting the benefit of the doubt from plate umpire Mike DiMuro on a close 2-2 pitch. But then Vizquel hit a grounder just past an outstretched Valentin.
If Buehrle was disappointed, he didn't show it.
"He faced the minimum and I'm sure that hasn't happened a lot," Konerko said. "That just goes to show, as soon as he gave up a hit, bang, he comes and makes a great pitch to get a double play, twice. Against a team that's as hot as anybody in the world, that's impressive."
Sox catcher Jamie Burke didn't even feel the need to go out to the mound to calm Buehrle down after Vizquel's hit.
"I was pretty upset, but we had to go get the next hitter," Burke said. "He stayed focused and got the double play."
The outing was Buehrle's first complete game of the season. His previous low-hit game came at Yankee Stadium on April 10 when he limited the Yankees to three hits in eight innings in a 7-3 Sox victory.
This one was against a Cleveland team that was coming off a trip in which it hit .329 with 21 home runs in six games.
"We knew how dangerous they are offensively," Guillen said of the Indians. "Buehrle gave us a good way to start this series."