Buehrle grabs 10th win as Jays top Royals
At the start of every baseball season, you can count on a few things from Mark Buehrle. His win total will be in double-digits and he will log more than 200 innings and he will do it all in a hurry.
For the past 13 seasons, it has been automatic. But even Buehrle, the master of consistency could not have predicted that in this, his 14th big-league season, he would reach double-digits in wins on June 1, with still four months left in the season. We know he likes to work fast, but this is ridiculous.
In his 12th start of the 2014 season, Buehrle racked up his MLB-leading 10th win Sunday, a 4-0 thing of simple beauty over the Kansas City Royals. He worked eight innings, allowed six hits, walked one and, with help from his defence, did not allow a base-runner to reach third. In only one inning did he allow more than one runner to reach base. And he did it all in 134 minutes.
Catcher Dioner Navarro gave his batterymate the only run he would need with a second inning home run. Anthony Gose delivered a second run on a fielder’s choice in the fourth, plating Juan Francisco, who had doubled to lead off. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, Edwin Encarnacion started June the way he spent the entire month of May: on fire. He lined his 19th home run of the season over the left field fence, with Adam Lind aboard, to complete the scoring.
To listen to Buehrle explain it, he’s just the luckiest man in baseball, right now.
“I’ve got a horseshoe stuck up my rear end pretty far right now,” he said. “I’m not complaining.”
Jose Bautista disagrees.
“It’s not luck,” said Bautista. “He’s pitching great, throwing strikes, keeping people off-balance and allowing us to play defence behind him. It’s not a surprise that, when he pitches, there are plenty of defensive plays made. He keeps everybody engaged in the game because he works quick. It’s been awesome to work behind him this year. He gets everybody to relax and that allows us to execute our game plan.”
The more you watch Buehrle pitch, the more you appreciate what a treasure he is. His 13-year string of double-digit wins and 200 innings is so unique that the next-closest such streaks (seven years by Justin Verlander and James Shields) are in their infancies by comparison. And he does it with a fastball that ranges between 81 and 84 mph, a cutter, a changeup and a suddenly effective curve ball. He leads all active pitchers in hits allowed (3,107) and nobody else is at all close. It doesn’t matter. He does some of his best work with men on base. He works fast, he works smart and he goes deep into games.
“Today, I didn’t feel as good in the first couple of innings and I got away with a lot of stuff,” said Buehrle. “It was one of those games where I could have gotten my butt handed to me. I was making mistakes and they weren’t making me pay for them.
“Later in the game, I kind of argued with Gibby and Pete (Walker) about trying to go back out there (for the ninth inning). I said: ‘Listen, there’s not many games when I feel this good this late in the game and today’s one of them. So if you need me to go back out there...”
“They said: ‘You’ve had enough. You’re done.’
“There are some days you feel good at the beginning and then kind of wear out. Today was one of those days where I didn’t feel that good at the beginning but I seemed to get stronger as I went along.”
Buehrle is now 10-1 on the season, the first pitcher in all of baseball to get to 10 wins, lowering his ERA to 2.10 in the process.
Lefty reliever Aaron Loup came on to finish what Buehrle had started, taking out the Royals in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Prior to this season, the earliest Buehrle has reached 10 wins was in 2002, when he did it in his 16th start on June 20. In 2005, he also reached 10 wins in his 16th start, on June 28. So far in his 12 starts in 2014, he has logged 81 innings and that 200-inning barrier is the other constant that keeps him focused.
“The biggest thing is 200 innings,” he said. “I feel like the wins and the ERA and everything else just falls into place. Obviously, it means a lot. A couple years ago, I barely got there, winning in my last start or two. But if I just throw quality innings, get to 200-plus, everything else is going to fall in line.”
There really is no single explanation for how Buehrle remains successful. It is a mysterious, confounding combination of will, pitching IQ and guile.
“He mixes speeds. He locates. He frustrates you. He feeds off your over-aggressiveness,” Kansas City DH Billy Butler says. “And he’s got a really good changeup. He’s always had that. Back-door cutters, front-door. Pounding you in with it. Throwing two-seamers, running them back. He’s crafty.”
He’s all that, and more.
“Today was as good as he’s been all year,” said manager John Gibbons. “He keeps you off-balance, he never gives in, he hits both sides of the plate. He’s a pitcher. To sum it up, he’s a pitcher.”