Buehrle wins, last Sox start could be next

CLEVELAND -- In what will potentially be his last start ever in a Chicago White Sox uniform, Mark Buehrle will have a major milestone within his reach next week.

When the free-agent-to-be takes the mound Tuesday against the Toronto Blue Jays, Buehrle will need five outs to reach the 200 mark on the season. At that moment he will have double digits in victories, 30 starts and 200 innings for the 11th consecutive season, the longest such active streak in baseball.

Just in case it is the end, the fans are expected to show an outpouring of love, not unlike what happened last season when Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski looked like they could be moving on as free agents.

“I don’t know, it’s a Tuesday night, and I don’t know how many [fans] will be there,” Buehrle said. “[Pitching coach Don Cooper] said I'd go out there and go five [innings], possibly, pull me and do the whole fan thing.

“I’m not looking at it as my last start. Even though there’s the possibility of it happening is really good, I’m going out there like I’m coming back next year and not try to make a big deal of it.”

Buehrle might not make a big deal of it, but the fans certainly will. There will be big cheers when he walks to the dugout after warming up, when he takes the mound, when he hits the 200-inning mark and especially when he walks off the field for the last time in 2011.

“I’m trying to tell myself not to [get emotional],” Buehrle said. “When the day gets here, it might be a little more, but this is all I’ve known for 12-13 years of my life, so I think going into it, I still think in my mind I’ll come back because, again, every spring training I’ve gone to the same spot.

“Deep down inside, that’s all I’m looking at. You try to tell yourself not to be emotional or ‘Hey, there’s a chance you’re coming back.’ But there’s the chance you’re not coming back, either.”

There seems to be no doubt that he gave all he had with the White Sox. If anything, his 11 consecutive 200-inning seasons attests to Buehrle’s consistency and durability.

Buehrle pitched six innings Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians in his first start after getting hit in the left biceps by a comebacker last week in Kansas City. He gave up only a two-run home run to Travis Hafner in the sixth inning that tied the game.

The White Sox grabbed the lead again in the top of the seventh inning, setting up Buehrle for the victory.

After the game, Buehrle was sporting a bruise that practically ran from his shoulder to his elbow. That right there showed what he is willing to give to the White Sox and his craft. So what will happen next season?

“It all depends on what the White sox want to do,” Buehrle said. “They spent a lot of money this year and we didn’t do a good job of getting where we want to get to. It all depends on what they want to do. If they want to go young and sign some young guys and got some guys in the bullpen they want to start, then they’ll go that route. But it’s on them.”