CHICAGO – The 105th pitch of Mark Buehrle’s day broke in toward Gabe Kapler, who turned on it and connected. Buehrle looked up and knew – his perfect game was in jeopardy.
Just in as a defensive replacement, Chicago White Sox center fielder DeWayne Wise sprinted toward the fence in left-center, a dozen strides. What happened next would be either a moment of baseball magic or the ninth-inning end of Buehrle’s bid for perfection against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Wise jumped and extended his right arm above the top of the 8-foot wall. The ball landed in his glove’s webbing but then popped out for an instant as he was caroming off the wall and stumbling on the warning track. Wise grabbed it with his bare left hand, fell to the ground and rolled. He bounced up, proudly displaying the ball for the crowd.
Magic. A home run turned into the 25th out of the game.
His biggest threat behind him, Buehrle coolly closed out the 18th perfect game in major league history, a 5-0 victory Thursday.
“I was hoping it was staying in there, give him enough room to catch it. I know the guys were doing everything they could to save the no-hitter, the perfect game, whatever it might be,” said Buehrle, who has now thrown two career no-hitters.
Wise knew the stakes.
“I was with the Braves in ’04 and I was there when Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks pitched a perfect game. So I’ve been on both sides of it,” he said. “It was probably the best catch I’ve ever made because of the circumstances.
“It was kind of crazy, man, because when I jumped, the ball hit my glove at the same time I was hitting the wall. So I didn’t realize I had caught it until I fell down and the ball was coming out of my glove, so I reached out and grabbed it.”
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen was happy he made the switch to Wise, who came in at center while Scott Podsednik shifted to left and Carlos Quentin was pulled out.
“I guess that’s our job,” Guillen said.
Buehrle fell behind 3-1 in the count to Michel Hernandez, the second batter in the ninth, who took a called strike and then swung and missed at strike three.
With fans chanting Buehrle’s name, Jason Bartlett got ahead 2-1, then grounded to shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who threw to first baseman Josh Fields. Buehrle put both hands on his head and was mobbed by teammates.
“Never thought I’d throw a no-hitter, never thought I’d throw a perfect game, never thought I’d hit a home run,” said Buehrle, who has done all three. “Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen.”
The pitcher received a congratulatory telephone call from President Barack Obama – a White Sox fan – following the 16th perfect game since the modern era began in 1900 and the first since Johnson’s on May 18, 2004.
“We joked around, a 30-second phone call, and I’m like ‘What? That’s all he’s got for me?’” Buehrle said.
Obama, a lefty like Buehrle, wore a White Sox jacket when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at last week’s All-Star game in St. Louis.
“I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it,” Buehrle said. “He said, ‘Congratulations, and it’s an honor. A lot of people are going to remember this forever.’”
Backed by Fields’ second-inning grand slam, Buehrle (11-3) threw 76 of 116 pitches for strikes and fanned six in his second no-hitter, helping Chicago move within a percentage point of AL Central-leading Detroit.
Kapler understood his role.
“That moment was magical for both Wise and Buehrle,” Kapler said, “and most guys earn those moments.”
In a 6-0 win over Texas on April 18, 2007, Buehrle also faced the minimum 27 batters. He walked Sammy Sosa in the fifth inning of that game, then picked him off two pitches later.
“I bought everyone watches after the last one. That was an expensive no-hitter,” Buehrle said. “This one will probably be more expensive.”
Buehrle and Johnson are the only active pitchers with two no-hitters, according to STATS LLC. In addition to his 2004 perfect game, the Big Unit tossed a no-hitter for Seattle against Detroit in 1990.
Buehrle went to three-ball counts on five batters, including 3-0 to Bartlett in the sixth. Bartlett took the next two pitches for strikes, fouled one off and then hit a grounder to Ramirez. As the shortstop threw to first, those in the crowd of 28,036, sensing history, cheered loudly.
Toward the end, Buehrle’s wife Jamie was a wreck as she watched from the seats near home plate with 4-month-old daughter Brooklyn.
“I’m so proud of my husband, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “He just never ceases to amaze me.”
perfect games thrown in major league baseball history:
July 23, 2009
Chicago (AL) vs. Tampa Bay, 5-0
May 18, 2004
Arizona at Atlanta, 2-0 July 18, 1999
David Cone New York (AL) vs. Montreal, 6-0 May 17, 1998
David Wells, New York (AL) vs. Minnesota, 4-0 July 28, 1994
Texas vs. California, 4-0
July 28, 1991 Dennis Martinez, Montreal at Los Angeles (NL), 2-0
Sept. 16, 1988
Tom Browning, Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles (NL), 1-0 Sept. 30, 1984
Mike Witt, California at Texas, 1-0
May 15, 1981
Len Barker, Cleveland vs. Toronto, 3-0
May 8, 1968
Catfish Hunter, Oakland vs. Minnesota, 4-0 Sept. 9, 1965
Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles vs. Chicago (NL), 1-0 June 21, 1964 Jim Bunning, Philadelphia at New York (NL), 6-0
Oct. 8, 1956
Don Larsen, New York (AL) vs. Brooklyn (NL), 2-0 (World Series) April 30, 1922 Charles Robertson, Chicago at Detroit (AL), 2-0
Oct. 2, 1908
Addie Joss, Cleveland vs. Chicago (AL), 1-0
May 5, 1904
Cy Young, Boston vs. Philadelphia (AL), 3-0
June 12, 1880
John Richmond, Worcester vs. Cleveland, 1-0
June 17, 1880
John Ward, Providence vs. Buffalo, 5-0