CHICAGO – Mark Buehrle pitched the first no-hitter of the season Wednesday night — and he was nearly perfect, too.
The Chicago White Sox left-hander faced the minimum 27 batters in a 6-0 victory over the Texas Rangers, picking off the only hitter he walked and throwing his team's first no-hitter since 1991.
Working quickly and efficiently in a dominant performance, Buehrle allowed only one baserunner. He walked Sammy Sosa with one out in the fifth inning, then promptly picked him off first base.
"I can't believe I did it," Buehrle said. "Perfect game would have been nice, too."
With the crowd on its feet in the ninth, Buehrle struck out Matt Kata and Nelson Cruz, then got Gerald Laird to hit a slow grounder to third base that Joe Crede picked up and threw to first. As Paul Konerko caught the ball, he pumped his fist, setting off a wild celebration.
Buehrle was mobbed by teammates at the side of the mound, including catcher A.J. Pierzynski, and then got a big hug from manager Ozzie Guillen as he came off the field.
On a chilly 40-degree night, Buehrle threw 105 pitches. His previous low-hit game was a one-hitter against Tampa Bay on Aug. 3, 2001. It was the 16th no-hitter in White Sox history and first since Wilson Alvarez threw one at Baltimore on Aug. 11, 1991.
"I was part of one in high school," Buehrle said. "To get through a big league lineup three times, I never thought it would happen."
It was the first no-hitter pitched against the Rangers since June 17, 1995, when Toronto's David Cone threw one in a 4-0 win.
More than two years passed without a no-hitter in major league baseball before rookie Anibal Sanchez threw one for Florida on Sept. 6, ending the longest stretch without a no-no in big league history. His gem against the Arizona Diamondbacks was the first in the majors since Arizona's Randy Johnson threw a perfect game to beat Atlanta 2-0 on May 18, 2004.
Buehrle, who retired 20 of the final 22 batters he faced in his previous start against Oakland, had some stellar defensive plays behind him before a crowd of 25,390 at U.S. Cellular Field.
Three of the closest plays came on grounders. Jerry Hairston hit one to Crede at third in the third inning and was called out at first after a headlong slide. Replays showed Hairston was out, but he was ejected by first base umpire James Hoye for arguing and had to be restrained by first base coach Gary Pettis when he returned to the field.
Tadahito Iguchi made a diving stop of Hank Blalock's grounder in the hole, got up and threw him out to end the fifth. That came one batter after Sosa spoiled the perfect game bid by drawing the walk.
And in the seventh, Chicago shortstop Juan Uribe went into the hole to get Ian Kinsler's grounder and got him at first, thanks to a nice scoop by Konerko.
Chicago right fielder Jermaine Dye also made a nice play in the second on Blalock, going back to the fence to catch his long drive.
"Obviously, for a guy like me, I need my defense behind me," Buehrle said.
Once the ace of the White Sox staff, Buehrle went 12-13 last season — his first losing record in six full major league seasons. After making the All-Star team, he struggled mightily after the break, going just 3-7.
His season got off to a rocky start when in his first appearance he was hit in the left forearm by a line drive from Cleveland's Ryan Garko and had to leave after pitching just 1 1-3 innings. But Buehrle rebounded with a solid effort against the A's, allowing four hits and three runs in seven innings and getting stronger as the game progressed.
The White Sox made it easier Wednesday night by breaking out of an offensive slump. They had scored only two runs in the previous three games, all losses.
Jim Thome homered twice — giving him 477 for his career — and Dye hit a two-out grand slam in the fifth off Kevin Millwood (2-2).
The White Sox loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth on Iguchi's single and back-to-back walks to Thome and Konerko.
Dye then had an 11-pitch at-bat. After fouling off six straight pitches, he hit a 3-2 pitch on a line into the left-field bullpen for his sixth career slam.
Millwood went five innings, allowing five hits, five runs and four walks.