All-Star Buehrle eager to play in hometown
Unabashed Cardinals fan will have friends, family in stands
ST. LOUIS -- Mark Buehrle doesn't apologize or try to hide it. He's a Cardinals fan.
"If we're not playing them," Buehrle said, "I want the Cardinals to win."
The White Sox lefty, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, hasn't been afraid to voice his admiration for his hometown team over the years.
"I've always said that," Buehrle said. "Even though I'm playing, I still look up at the scoreboard and hope that the Cardinals win. Just because I play now doesn't mean I can't be a fan."
Buehrle, making his fourth All-Star appearance but the first in his hometown, was shown on FOX cameras during the 2006 World Series at Busch Stadium wearing a Cardinals hat. He has never pitched in St. Louis or against the Cards, meaning his first outing could come Tuesday night with 43 of his family and friends in attendance.
And while Buehrle is enjoying his time in Chicago, make no mistake, he still hopes to have the chance to finish his career in St. Louis.
"Even if I retire and then throw one pitch, just sign a one day contract with them, I just want to put a Cardinals jersey on and get out there," Buehrle said. "Born and raised here in St. Louis. I probably get myself in trouble for a lot of it, but it would be a great honor."
But for now, Buehrle is the ace of the White Sox and has been having one of his best seasons. The lefty is 9-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 18 starts.
"He throws the ball over. He doesn't waste any time on the mound," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Buehrle, whose 23 wins against Minnesota are the most for the southpaw against any one team. "He uses all of his pitches. He adds and subtracts probably as well as anybody with all of his pitches. He throws so many different speeds. He's just attacking. You have to be ready to go when you get in the box."
During his time in Chicago, Buehrle has become known, among other things, as the perfect getaway day starter. He doesn't try to get fancy. He's all about location, movement, making the defense work behind him and exhibiting pitching guile.
A funny thing about Buehrle's success is that the 38th-round pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft is probably less impressed with these accomplishments than those who suit up with him.
"It's amazing. He's just a great pitcher," said White Sox rookie third baseman Gordon Beckham. "He knows how to pitch. He knows where to put the baseball to get people out. He always keeps us in the game."
Matt Thornton, a left-handed White Sox reliever with All-Star credentials of his own, couldn't be more of a polar opposite than the unassuming staff ace. Thornton's fastball has been known to top out near 100 mph, while Buehrle probably couldn't reach that figure unless he was driving a car.
That basic difference certainly doesn't preclude Thornton from having great respect for how his teammate approaches the game.
"If I had to face me as a hitter, you know you are getting a fastball and you know you have to get ready. I don't have deception," Thornton said. "I can sneak it on the hands and locate the ball well.
"With Buehrle, I don't think hitters know what's coming. It's one of numerous pitches, to either side of the plate. He's just a lot of fun to watch. That's why he's so effective."
And that reasoning is why Buehrle comes to St. Louis for his fourth All-Star Game, after starting and pitching two scoreless innings while getting the win for the American League in Detroit in 2005. Buehrle threw one-third of an inning without giving up a run in Milwaukee in the Midsummer Classic in '02, but did not play in Pittsburgh in '06.
Buehrle threw 70 pitches Saturday and has told AL manager Joe Maddon that he is available for an inning Tuesday. There's no way he is missing this one.
"White Sox fans probably don't like hearing about it," Buehrle said. "But if you ask anybody in this room or in any clubhouse, 'The team you grew up watching and rooting for, would you like to play for them one day?' I'd say 95 percent of the guys would say yes. But I'm just the guy coming out and saying it.
"If anybody doesn't know by now that I'm a Cardinals fan, they will find out after this week."
B.J. Rains is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.