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Cubs find elusive left-handed batting practice pitcher

In an odd change of events, the only trash being thrown at Wrigley Field was from White Sox pitchers. Of course, there were still balls being thrown back on the field. One idiot threw back a Paul Konerko foul ball that landed behind the Sox dugout, and I'm sure Uribe or Thome's homerun made it back on field. But the real story was the garbage being hurled towards home plate from White Sox pitching.

Mark Buehrle predictably melted down in the first inning after allowing a bunt single. Buehrle now has three separate 7-run first innings in his last 82 starts, and in all of them one of the first hits was a small infield single that signaled a meltdown. This has to be fixed. You can see Buehrle's big innings coming from a mile away, and they're over in the blink of an eye. That's the problem.

Buehrle likes to say that he just goes out there and 'plays catch' with the catcher, and sometimes that gets him in trouble. He was throwing 86 MPH fastballs right over the heart of the plate; no team, not even the hapless Cubs, will have much trouble hitting those. I'll be thoroughly disappointed if I hear anyone in the White Sox organization talking about Buehrle tipping his pitches. -- Nobody visited the mound in the first. Buehrle didn't slow down, get off the mound, walk around, take some time between pitches, try to figure out what was going wrong. -- Why were the Cubs able to score 7 times on just 24 pitches? Because Buehrle was leaving everything over the middle of the plate.

Unfortunately for the Sox, Buehrle's first inning meltdown was not his only predictable big inning. No, an error by Alex Cintron triggered Buehrle's usual unearned run parade. But since he gave up the HR to Neifi -- Yes, Neifi F'n Perez -- with just 1 out, 3 of the 4 runs were earned. Still, Buehrle upped his total to 57 unearned runs since the start of the '03 season, or .62 runs per 9 innings pitched. (I'm in the process of finding out how poor that is, but I want to get this entry up right away.)

Update [2006-7-2 18:15:56 by The Cheat]: Using the invaluable Baseball Musings day-by-day database, I looked at every pitcher in baseball who has pitched at least 500 innings since the start of the 2003 season. There were 87 pitchers who fit this criteria. Buehrle ranks ahead of only Bronson Arroyo, Mark Hendrickson, and Derek Lowe in Unearned runs/9IP. The average for this sample is .35, and the best is Curt Schilling at just .10.

Even though Buehrle continued to give up runs, I actually felt pretty confident about the White Sox ability to claw their way back. This offense is too good not to put up a number of runs against one of the worst teams in baseball. And they would do just that. Unfortunately, the air really came out of my hopes on three straight pitches in the top of the 7th. Jermaine Dye struck out (questionably) looking before A.J. Pierzynski and Cintron made first pitch outs to end the Sox threat with runners at first and second.

Ozzie Guillen waved the white flag that is Cliff Politte in the next inning, and then inexplicably sent him back out for a second inning of work after he had surrendered two runs. Politte allowed the first two runs of Angel Pagan's career, and should expect to be designated for assignment within the next couple weeks. Kenny Williams will not sit idly by while a member of his bullpen continues the climb towards the terrible run-per-inning mark.

I honestly thought the Sox could win the game until I saw Politte sent back out for the second inning. In fact, had the bullpen held, the Sox would have scored enough runs to take Buehrle off the hook for the loss. Believe it or not, the Sox have done just that in all three games in which Buehrle has allowed 7 in the first, but they've still come up short in two of those contests.