CHICAGO -- It was a night of big returns Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field as Mark Buehrle came back to pitch in his old ballpark and Avisail Garcia took the field again far earlier than what was originally projected.
It gave Chicago White Sox fans plenty to cheer about on a night that was far more energetic than most have been this season.
“It's fun to have a lot of people here, obviously,” said John Danks, who started for the White Sox opposite Buehrle and his Toronto Blue Jays. “We know the reason why and whatnot, but nonetheless it was a good atmosphere; it was fun to pitch.”
For Buehrle, the thank yous were delivered in four separate standing ovations, two before the game even began. And on multiple occasions Buehrle acknowledged those who had his back for 12 seasons on the South Side.
It seemed only fitting that when Garcia got the White Sox on the board finally with an RBI single in the sixth inning, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons removed Buehrle from the game. It was a symbolic torch passing in a lot of ways from the guy the fans came to honor in Buehrle to Garcia, who has returned to pick up where he left off when he went out with a serious shoulder injury in April.
Buehrle raised both arms in the air when he walked off the field, waving to the first- and third-base sides.
Immediately afterward, he wondered if that was the proper thing to do.
“I actually texted [Paul] Konerko and kind of apologized and said, ‘Hey, I hope nobody is pissed on the team that I tipped my hat kind of walking off the field,’ because I don’t know what the rule is as far as being a visitor and kind of tipping your hat,” Buehrle said.
“It’s one of those things that I didn’t want to piss anybody off on the other team, but at the same time the reaction I was getting from the crowd, I felt it was right.”
If anybody felt it was improper that Buehrle showed his appreciation to the outpouring of love and support, they probably will be sent lumps of coal at Christmas.
“Obviously coming out of the dugout and running out, fans started chanting and going crazy, but I just tried to focus and realize what I had to do,” Buehrle said. “The reception I got, I was kind of thinking it might be good. But what they did, coming off the field, every time I ran out, to hear people cheering, walking off around the dugout, it was exceptional.”
During Garcia’s first at-bat after four months away because of surgery to the labrum on his left shoulder, the cheers weren’t as intense as those Buehrle received. That changed eventually as the burly outfielder doubled during his first at-bat. He lined out to center in the fourth inning before his sixth-inning RBI single.
“It was great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Garcia’s return. “I think it’s a shot in the arm for us, adding another bat. I think he’s really excited. You can see it in the way he was playing.
“He’s a great player and we’re excited to have him back. I think he showed the talent that he has and why we’re excited about having him.”
Buehrle and Garcia admitted to being more nervous than they expected, although Buehrle said he was actually more anxious to talk to the media Friday.
“Honestly, I told my wife I was so glad Friday was over,” Buehrle said. “Pitching today, I knew there was going to be some emotions and nerves going, but it's just kind of what do you do.”
Garcia’s early nerves came with a little confusion attached.
“A little bit nervous, but that’s a good feeling, nothing bad,” Garcia said. “I was just a little bit nervous, trying to make contact for the first at-bat. I hit it and I didn’t know where the ball went. The first-base coach told me, ‘Run, run, run.’ So I started running.”
Despite missing nearly all of this season, Garcia has formed a tight bond off the field with Jose Abreu. The White Sox’s expectation is the two feed off each other in the heart of the lineup for a long time. Saturday was a major step toward realizing that goal.
“I feel great,” Garcia said. “I feel really happy to come back this year. I’ve been working hard. I’m glad to be back here with the guys to help this team win. That’s why I’m here.”
On the pitching side of things, Danks and Buehrle ultimately dueled to a draw, but the Blue Jays took a 6-3 victory after administering some damage against the White Sox’s bullpen.
Danks gave up three runs on seven hits over six innings, while Buehrle gave up his three runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings.
Danks hinted he might catch up with Buehrle at some point before the Blue Jays left town. Buehrle was more forthcoming with plans to get together.
“Yeah, I'll go out and have some drinks. And Danks is paying the bill since I'm in his city, and we'll go from there,” Buehrle said.
It was an ideal night to reflect on where things have been and where they ultimately are going.