TORONTO -- The No. 42 he wore in honor of Jackie Robinson Day on Monday may have obscured his identity, but there was no mistaking Mark Buehrle on the mound.
A rough first inning aside, the former White Sox pitcher used his entire repertoire to beat his old team in their first-ever meeting as the Toronto Blue Jays won 4-3 in front of 15,755 at Rogers Centre.
Buehrle scattered nine hits and two walks as he limited the White Sox to a pair of first-inning runs over 6 1/3 innings and outpitched ex-teammate Gavin Floyd. Floyd allowed all four runs in 4 1/3 innings as the White Sox lost for the sixth time in seven games.
“Once he got through that first inning, then it became a clinic on hitting spots, changing speeds, stuff you’ve seen his whole career,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s just a smart pitcher. He used our aggressiveness at times. He hit spots, took a little off, added a little on. Guys like him can pitch at this level because they’re smart and don’t have to throw 95 mph to get people out. It’s something I know White Sox fans have seen forever, but it was a clinic.”
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All the signature elements of a game White Sox fans knew for 11 seasons, from the array of offspeed pitches to the dazzling pickoff move and a high-profile escape, were on display.
Buerhle yielded two runs on four hits in the first inning with longtime teammate Paul Konerko driving in the first run on a single to left. Dayan Viciedo also singled in a run as the White Sox grabbed a 2-0 lead.
But he settled in from there and kept the White Sox off the board until he exited with a 4-2 lead.
Although he expected some levity in the situation, Konerko said he didn’t enjoy facing his teammate of 11 seasons.
“I felt a little weird,” Konerko said. “Not something you want to deal with as far as for me, because I played with him for so long. I didn’t have much fun with it, and I don’t think he did, either. But it was a good game, and he pitched well.”
He did so in vintage Buehrle style.
Buehrle used a pickoff move most of his ex-mates describe as the best in the majors to catch Tyler Greene off first base in the second inning. He baffled them in the middle innings with by changing speeds and keeping Sox hitters off-balance. And when Buehrle got into trouble in the fifth, he inexplicably escaped with a double-play ball off Jeff Keppinger’s bat and a strikeout of Konerko.
Buehrle said the key to his performance wasn’t the use of his normal approach but rather a new, somewhat uncomfortable twist.
He also didn’t have a chance to mess around with Konerko in their first at-bat with two runners. On Sunday, Konerko suggested Buehrle might throw him an eephus pitch.
“Trying to not make eye contact with them, just kind of looking at the glove and keeping my head down more, which isn’t me,” Buehrle said. “You don’t want to screw around there -- with runners on and if something bad happens it won’t look good. I obviously know how good of a hitter (Konerko) is; you have to make some pitches there, so you have to keep the ball down on him.”
Floyd couldn’t keep the ball down and quickly surrendered the two-run lead he was staked. J.P. Arencibia tied the game with a first-inning solo homer and Maicer Izturis put Toronto ahead for good with a solo shot in the second. Five of the Blue Jays’ nine hits off Floyd went for extra bases.
The support was more than enough for Buehrle, who frustrated White Sox hitters all night. After they had four hits in their first six at-bats versus the left-hander, White Sox hitters went 5-for-20 the rest of the way.
“He’s a guy who senses when you’re patient and throws a fastball in there that you think you should hit,” Ventura said. “That’s when it gets frustrating as a hitter. He just frustrated a lot of guys with teasing them with a little bit of this and a little bit of that and stuff he’s done his whole career.”