Buehrle delivers a gem in possible send off

CHICAGO -- One of the best team players in Chicago White Sox history was left standing alone Tuesday.

With the eighth inning about to start, all the White Sox position players appeared to be heading out to the field before they suddenly stopped. Mark Buehrle was not in on the plan and took the field by himself.

When he turned around just before reaching the mound, he knew the gag he had worried about was complete.

In what could have been his last start in a White Sox uniform, Mark Buehrle had the entire stage to himself after tossing seven scoreless innings.

As Buehrle turned to the dugout, interim manager/pitching coach Don Cooper walked to the mound. He got a ball from home plate umpire Gary Cederstrom, walked up to Buehrle and placed the gift in the left-hander’s glove.

The crowd of 23,934 was already into full roar.

“In the back of my mind, I knew they would do something in between the innings [or] after getting an out and then pull me,” Buehrle said. “I actually thought I’d go out and do my warmup pitches and they’d come out and get me. I’m looking for the ball and looking back and Coop’s already coming out with it in his hand. It kind of surprised me.”

The crowd continued to applaud Buehrle as he walked off the field. He was then embraced by everybody in the dugout. The night ended in ideal fashion when Buehrle picked up the win in the 2-1 victory.

Buehrle said he would like to return in 2012. He said that if the White Sox matched or nearly matched his best free-agent offer, he would come back. But nothing is certain now. After 161 victories, a no-hitter, a perfect game and a World Series title, there’s a chance Buehrle might not be back until he gets his statue on the concourse.

“Obviously doing this for 13, 14 years of my life, this is all I know,” Buehrle said. “It’s kind of hard to think otherwise. It’s hard to go home this offseason and think, ‘Hey, I’m going to go spring training somewhere else.’ This is all I’ve known. So I don’t know. Deep down inside I’d love to be back, but reality might sink in. It depends on which way they go.”

Ozzie Guillen is gone as manager. General manager Kenny Williams said payroll would drop from the $127-plus mark it was this season. Buehrle would represent a huge chunk of those savings if he didn’t return.

But Tuesday night was just about Buehrle, who got one more chance to show people the special things he can do with a left arm that doesn’t throw as hard as most. He won yet another game on heart and the crowd responded by showing theirs.

“You know what, it’s fun; it was a fun night,” Cooper said. “You’re out there for three hours and you want to win the game. Down at the end I wanted to get that last out. I thought ‘What a neat night it would be considering he’s pitching, getting the win, as the manager.’ Who would have thought. That’s not something I envisioned.”

Buehrle said he wouldn’t have envisioned it either. Now the return that some can’t envision is next on the list.

“It was awesome. These fans have been nothing but good to me here except that first half of that one year I was doing bad,” Buehrle said. “These fans have been awesome, at the field, the grocery store, going out to dinner. Just anybody and everybody I have seen has been great to me.”