At 35-years-old, not much should bother Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle. He’s never seen a mound he couldn’t conquer over his 15-year career. He boasts a resume which includes a perfect game, 197 wins and a World Series title in 2005 with the White Sox.
But the southpaw has yet to take the mound at U.S. Cellular Field as a visiting pitcher since leaving in 2011.
“I’m sure it will be different,” Buehrle admitted. “I’m going to try not to make it too different for myself and go out there and treat it as any other game, but I’m sure there’s going to be some emotions, just different feelings pitching, getting on the mound the first time in a couple of years. I’m just going to try to go out there and get outs.”
Facing his former team isn’t anything new for Buehrle. He’s split the two games he’s pitched against the White Sox, winning once in 2013 and losing earlier this season. When he walks out on the field in the bottom of the first inning, Buehrle hopes to get some cheers from the fan base that embraced him for 12 years of his career.
“It’s nice to come back where you played for so long and hopefully get cheered,” he said. “I haven’t pitched here. I remember Frank got cheered, his first ovation. He hit two home runs and started getting booed. If I pitch too good I might get booed walking off the mound, I don’t know.”
At the end of the 2011 season, the White Sox took a gamble. Buehrle was a free agent that offseason while his teammate and opposing starter for Saturday night, John Danks, was looking for a new deal to avoid a possible arbitration hearing after the following season. In the end, the franchise chose to give top dollar to the younger Danks, who eventually signed a five-year, $65 million extension. Buehrle agreed to terms with the Marlins on a four-year, $58 million deal and took his talents to South Beach.
Buehrle, who has a 36-31 record over the past three seasons, still remembers the events that unfolded but doesn’t hold any of it against the organization he established himself with for over a decade.
“Obviously it came to the point they had money to spend and wanted to spend it on a younger guy,” he said. “I’m not bitter. I’d have loved to spend my whole career here and still be here to this day but it’s part of the game and it happened.”
Buehrle will be 36 when his contract expires with the Blue Jays after the 2015 season, but he’s been one of the more dependable pitchers on a staff that hopes to jump back into the playoff picture after losing four straight games.
He admits he’s not the same player he once was (“10 pounds heavier, throw slower, I’m not as agile on the mound as I used to be”), but if he keeps up the numbers he’s had this year, 11-8 with a 3.31 ERA, some team will take a chance on him.
Could that team be the White Sox?
“I've got to be healthy and somebody's got to want me in a year and a half,” Buehrle said. “I could retire, I could make a comeback. I don't know. I've got a year and a half. I'm not thinking about it.”