Monday, April 11, 2011
Posted: 9:52 p.m. Updated: 11:56 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGOWhile evidence abounds that Chicago White Sox closer Matt Thornton shouldnt take the fall for Mondays 2-1 loss to the Oakland As in 10 innings, those scarlet lettersBSreside aside the flamethrowing lefthanders name in the box score. To Thornton, theyre deserved.
Watch: Thornton takes the blame
The first batter in the ninth, Andy LaRoche, I made three good pitches on and then made a bulls--- fourth pitch, and he drove it for a double, Thornton said. I dont care what happens after thatyou cant do that to the leadoff guy in a one-run game. Ive got to bury that slider. I left it in the zone, and he was able to do what he did with it.
LaRoche drove a double into the left-center gap, and Thornton coaxed a lineout to first from Coco Crispand then disaster struck. Daric Barton lofted a towering butterfly ball that danced on left fielder Juan Pierre, glancing off his glove at the warning track and falling for a run-tying error. It was the second time on this homestand that a flyball error by Pierre led to a blown save for Thornton.
Watch: Ozzie on Juan Pierre's error
It was a tough ball for Juan, very tough, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. The wind was blowing very hard. He went all the way to the wall. Its not an easy play as people think it was.
Juan Pierre is a great player, Thornton said. Hes made two mistakes behind me. Ill never say anything about that guyI want every fly ball I get to go to him. Hes dedicated to this game more than anyone in all of baseball. So Ill never say anything bad about anything going on behind me, anyone on my defense. Theyre great players. Ive got Gold Glove winners, All-Stars. Everybodys trying to win the game. We have one common goal, to win.
Pierre, as Thornton said as dedicated a player as there is in the sport, wasnt buying any excuses made on his behalf.
Watch: Pierre says he's cost the Sox two games
I missed the ball, Pierre said. I appreciate Guillen saying it was windy. I just flat-out missed it. Ive basically cost us two games on the schedule so far. I can handle the booing, but when you got a guy like Thornton out there closing for the first time, busting his butt, and you play that way behind him, I feel worse for him, as well as the team. It happens. I dont know what else you can say.
Of course, the error led to just one run and Thorntons exit from the game. Jesse Crain came on to retire Conor Jackson and Josh Willingham, but after a feeble bottom of the ninth by the White Sox, Oakland struck for the winning run, a line-shot homer off the bat of Kurt Suzuki.
While Mark Buehrle held the As hitless for six innings in pursuit of another legendary outing, the White Sox piled up five hits and seven total baserunners vs. Oakland starter Dallas Braden over his six innings. Chicago had just one run to show for itBrent Lillibridges first home run of the seasona blast to left-center that became the 10,000th home run in team history.
Watch: Lillibridge on making history
But unfortunately, such highlights were lost in the murk of another blown game. Thankfully, the principals are keeping a stiff upper lip and are ready to roll out the bag of balls again tomorrow.
As long as he sees Im not losing confidence in myself, none of our coaching staff is going to lose confidence in me, Thornton said. Im going to continue to be the same person Ive always been and keep on going after hitters same way. The results arent bouncing my way right now, but Im a strong enough person to keep on bouncing back and keep on having fun in the game, keep on giving it everything Ive got.
We will fight back, Guillen said. The last Thornton blown save, on Friday before was kind of a punch in the stomach being up by three. This one we were up by one run, and anything can happen late in the game when up by one.
Buehrle spins another gem
The heartbreaking turn of events erased an absolute gem spun by White Sox starter Buehrle, who turned in eight innings of two-hit ball, leaving with a chance to earned his second win of the season.
Buehrle no matter what, hes going to be the same guy, Guillen said. Hes going to let them put the ball in play.
He was throwing the ball very good, mixing pitches very well, said catcher Ramon Castro. We had a good rhythm from the beginning of the game.
Even Buehrle, ever modest, knew he had his mojo working against the As, traditionally one of his toughest foes.
Watch: Buehrle feeling good from the get-go
It was one of those games where everything was working, Buehrle said. Castro called a good game, just mixing it up. I threw a lot of fastballs in, offspeed pitches were working. Theres 33 starts: 11 of them youre going to have good stuff, 11 are going be so-so and 11 are going to be bad. And today was one of the good ones.
It was the 21st-ever battle between pitchers who had hurled perfect games in their careers, and Buehrle outlasted Oakland As ace Braden in their respective no-hit bids.
Bradens second attempt at perfection ended when Paul Konerko walked to lead off the second inning, and his no-hit bid was squashed when Alex Rios tapped out a safety with one out in the fourth.
Buerhle had a perfect game going through one out in the fourth (walking Barton) and saw his no-hitter dissipate in the sixth, when Suzuki singled to left leading off the inning. Ironically, just one pitch earlier Suzuki had sidestepped an out when Gordon Beckham couldnt hold onto his foul pop.
Tonight marked the ninth time that Buehrle had started a game with at least five innings of no-hit ball. The veteran lefthander had been the White Soxs poorest starter through two runs of the rotation, sporting a subpar average game score of 35 (an average game score is 50). Tonight, he tossed an 80, marking the third start in four games where White Sox arms have crafted a weighty 80-plus game score. Buehrle's .596 win probability added (WPA) was the 10th-highest for a White Sox pitcher since 2000. Buehrle left after eight shutout innings, surrendering just two hits and one walk against one K.
Guillen was catching criticism postgame for not running Buehrle out for the ninth, in pursuit of a complete game. But in his mind, there was no way he was letting his veteran lefthander out of the dugout for the final frame.
One thing I said in spring training Ive said over and over: We have to take care of Buehrle, Guillen said. He did his job, he had 99 pitches. Our bullpen, they are getting paid pretty good. I have confidence in the bullpen. Im going to use those guys the best way I can and the most I can. Our bullpen, we have guys with good arms and they can pitch.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.