April 1st will bring us another Opening Day with Mark Buehrle on the hill. It was announced on Friday that Buehrle will make his team record 9th Opening Day start vs. the Cleveland Indians. He has gotten the call every season since 2002, with the exception being the debacle that Jose Contreras provided in 2007. Although it is pretty much accepted that Buehrle isn't the true ace of the staff anymore, it is nice to have a guy with his attitude and experience pitching the opener. Every year you see examples of a pitcher succumbing to the pageantry of Opening Day and letting their nerves get the best of them. Buehrle is known for being laid back and not worrying about whether he is starting Opening Day, pitching a perfect game or getting blasted for 10 runs. He seems to take it all in stride. Here is a rundown of how he has fared in his eight previous Opening Day starts.
April 1, 2002- The first time Buehrle got the ball on opening day took place in Seattle as the White Sox squared off with the Mariners and future teammate, Freddy Garcia. Buehrle threw 6 innings, with the only blemish being a solo homer by Mike Cameron in the 2nd inning. The Sox finally got to Garcia in the 6th as Sandy Alomar hit a 2 run double. With one on in the top of the 7th, Garcia was taken out in favor of Ryan Franklin, who walked Magglio Ordonez, gave up a double to Paul Konerko, a single to Jose Valentin and a homer to Carlos Lee. When the smoke cleared, the Sox led 6-1. Antonio Osuna, Gary Glover and Damaso Marte tried to give the game back in the 8th, as 4 Mariner runs crossed the plate. Keith Foulke loaded the bases in the 9th, but got Cameron to fly out to end the game 6-5. Buehrle recorded the win.
March 31, 2003- Opening Day was held in Kansas City as Buehrle faced off against Runelvys Hernandez. An Angel Berroa RBI single and a Brent Mayne sacrifice fly gave the Royals a 2-0 lead in the 2nd inning. That was all of the runs Buehrle would give up in 7 innings of work, but Hernandez held the Sox to 2 hits over 6 innings. Jason Grimsley pitched 2 scoreless innings, and the Royals tacked on another run in the 8th as Tom Gordon uncorked a wild pitch, scoring Mike Sweeney. Mike MacDougal came in to close it down and retired Valentin, Thomas and Ordonez in order to preserve the 3-0 Royal victory.
April 5, 2004- Buehrle was on the mound again in Kansas City in 2004, but this time the manager was different as Ozzie Guillen was managing his first big league game. Facing the Sox was Brian Anderson (not THAT Brian Anderson). Everything was going swimmingly when Paul Konerko hit a 2 run double and Sandy Alomar followed that with a 2 run homer in the 2nd to give the Sox a 4-0 lead. After the Royals made it 4-1 on a Benito Santiago fielder's choice, Carlos Lee homered to make it 5-1. Santiago followed with a homer of his own to make it 5-2. An RBI double by Valentin and a RBI single by Aaron Rowand made it 7-2. Aaron Guiel made it 7-3 on a rbi single, which ended Buehrle's day after 6 2/3 IP giving up 3 runs (2 earned). The score would remain 7-3 until the bottom of the 9th when Cliff Politte, Billy Koch and Marte found a way to give up 6 runs. The two major blows were a 3 run homer by Mendy Lopez to tie the game and a 2 run job by Carlos Beltran to win the game. It was at that time when I fired my remote control off the wall in my parents living room, causing it to shatter. Damaso still owes me 20 bucks. Future White Sox D.J. Carrasco got the win, with Marte taking the loss.
April 4, 2005- Opening Day 2005 was at home vs. the Cleveland Indians. Buehrle faced Jake Westbrook in what was an absolute pitchers duel. The Indians got singles by Coco Crisp and Victor Martinez over 8 innings from Buehrle. The Sox offense wasn't much better, as they managed an unearned run off of Westbrook on an Aaron Rowand grounder that Jhonny Peralta booted. That is all they needed though, as Shingo Takatsu came in and put the Indians down in order to close out the game 1-0 as the Sox started their journey towards the World Championship.
April 2, 2006- In one of my all time favorite games because of the raising of the World Series championship banner, Buehrle took the mound vs. the Indians again, this time squaring off against CC Sabathia. In the third, Juan Uribe walked, Brian Anderson doubled and Scott Podsednik grounded out scoring Uribe. Tadahito Iguchi followed that up with a single making it 2-0, before Sabathia left with an abdominal strain. Konerko added a sacrifice fly in the inning off of Danny Graves to give the Sox a 3-0 lead. In the top of the 4th, Buehrle gave the lead right back allowing an RBI double to Victor Martinez and a 2 run homer to Eduardo Perez. Then the rain came. After a near 3 hour delay, the Sox scored 3 runs off of Fernando Cabrera, including Jim Thome's first home run in a Sox uniform. Brandon McCarthy came in after the delay in the 5th and shut down the Indians for 3 innings. The Sox continued to tack on runs and won the game 10-4.
March 31, 2008- Buehrle was back on the mound, again squaring off against Sabathia- this time in Cleveland. After Jim Thome gave the Sox a 2-0 lead with a first inning homer, Buehrle gave up 7 hits and a walk in the bottom of the 2nd. Franklin Gutierrez and Grady Sizemore provided homers and Buehrle was pulled after 1 2/3 innings, giving up 7 runs. Nick Masset came in and pitched wonderfully for 4 1/3 innings and the Sox managed to come all the way back and tie the Indians up at 7 when Konerko doubled in Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera in the 7th inning. Unfortunately, Octavio Dotel loaded the bases in the 8th inning and Casey Blake unloaded them with a 3 run double giving the Tribe a 10-7 lead. A Jermaine Dye solo shot in the 9th was not enough as the Sox dropped the game 10-8. Interesting to note that the starting center fielder that day for the Sox was Alexei Ramirez.
April 7, 2009- The Royals came calling to the Cell, with Gil Meche starting opposite Buehrle. Alex Gordon homered in the 2nd to give the Royals a 1-0 lead, which was quickly erased by a Josh Fields RBI single in the bottom of the inning. Gordon brought in Jose Guillen in the 5th on an RBI groundout giving the Royals a 2-1 lead. Buehrle was done after 5 innings (and 97 pitches) as he labored all day. That is where the score stayed until Thome stepped up to the plate with 2 men on vs. Kyle Farnsworth in the 8th. One massive bomb and a scoreless inning by Bobby Jenks and the Sox walked out with a 4-2 victory.
April 5, 2010- Again the Indians came to Chicago, with Jake Westbrook looking to avenge the 2005 loss. The Indians offense didn't fare much better than it did 5 years earlier as Buehrle scattered 3 hits over 7 innings, and even tossed in a defensive play of the year. Westbrook, however, wasn't as successful as 2005 as Konerko started off his remarkable season strong with a 2 run home run in the 1st inning. A run scoring wild pitch and 2 Mark Kotsay RBI groundouts gave the Sox a 5-0 lead after the 5th. Alex Rios homered in the 8th and made a great diving catch in the 9th to close out the game, giving Buehrle the victory.
Buehrle is 3-1 with a 3.38 ERA over his 8 previous opening day starts. Given his contract status, this may be the last time he starts an Opening Day for the Sox. Mark Buehrle and Paul Konerko are the poster boys of the White Sox since the World Series Championship and it would be really hard to imagine an opening day without either one of them in the lineup. We know Konerko will be back for a few years, and maybe Buehrle will be getting the call to start the 2012 season too- but just incase, cherish this start. For a whole generation of fans, Buehrle IS Opening Day. It wouldn't be right without him.
Other memorable Opening Days since 1959:
April 10, 1959- Nellie Fox was 5-7, including a go ahead home run in the 14th to lead the Sox to a 9-7 victory over the Tigers. Fox would go on to win the MVP award that season. Gerry Staley picked up the win after going 4 2/3 scoreless innings in relief.
April 19, 1960- After Gerry Staley blew the save, Minnie Minoso hit a walk off home run in his return to the South Side. Minoso was 2-4 with a grand slam and the walk off homer as the Sox edged out the Kansas City Athletics 10-9.
April 10, 1962- Sherm Lollar singled home the winning run in the 9th inning as Juan Pizarro went the distance to beat the Angels 2-1.
April 9, 1963- Pete Ward hit a go ahead 3 run home run in the 7th inning in Detroit as the Sox beat the Tigers 7-5.
April 12, 1966- Tommy McCraw went 3-6 and drove in the winning run in the 14th inning as the Sox beat the Angels 3-2. Tommie Agee hit a home run to kick off his Rookie of the Year season.
April 7, 1971- Rich Mckinney's 7th inning pinch hit single scored 2 runs as Tommy John earned the victory over Catfish Hunter and the Oakland A's. Bill Melton also hit the first of his 1971 league leading 33 homers.
April 9, 1976- Wilbur Wood threw a CG Shutout as Jim Spencer went 3-3 with a homer and 3 RBI's in the 4-0 victory over the Royals.
April 7, 1978- The Sox scored 2 runs in the 9th for the 6-5 walk off victory. Ron Bloomberg tied the game with a homer and Wayne Nordhagen won the game with an RBI double as Lerrin LaGrow earned the win over Dick Drago and the Red Sox.
April 10, 1981- Britt Burns faced Dennis Eckersley in Carlton Fisk's first game as a White Sox. Fisk homered in the game as the Sox won 5-3, with LaMarr Hoyt getting the win in relief and Ed Farmer recording the save.
April 11, 1982- Ron LeFlore singled home Bill Almon in extra innings off of Hall of Famer Goose Gossage as Kevin Hickey picked up the win in New York.
April 4, 1988- The Sox scored 5 runs in the 7th behind an RBI double by Kenny Williams and an RBI single by Ozzie Guillen in a 8-5 win over the Angels. Ricky Horton pitched 8 innings in the win.
April 9, 1990- Scott Fletcher hit a sac fly scoring Sammy Sosa in the 7th to give the Sox a 2-1 lead. Bobby Thigpen recorded the first of his 57 saves in the final Opening Day of Comiskey Park.
April 8, 1991- Sammy Sosa went 3-4 with 2 homers and 5 RBI and Jack McDowell threw a Complete Game as the Sox ruined the last Opener at Memorial Stadium for the Orioles 9-1.
April 1, 1997- With the Sox trailing 5-2 in the 8th, Albert Belle hit a 2 run homer in his White Sox debut to bring the Sox to 5-4. Paco Martin tied it in the 9th with a homer of his own, and Tony Pena gave the Sox the lead with an infield single in the 10th. Roberto Hernandez closed down the Blue Jays to give the Sox a 6-5 comeback win in Toronto.
March 31, 1998- The Sox scored 7 runs in the 5th behind big hits from Robin Ventura, Mike Cameron, Frank Thomas and Albert Belle as the Sox rolled Texas 9-2 behind Jaime Navarro.
April 5, 1999- Frank Thomas was 3-4 with 2 RBI's, Darrin Jackson was 2-4 with a homer and Paul Konerko homered in his first game as a White Sox as James Baldwin beat the Mariners in Seattle 8-2.