Like most Chicago sports fans, I made the decision to watch the Bulls Wednesday. It was their regular-season finale, and with the Cleveland Cavaliers winning, if they won they’d get the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a relatively cushy first-round playoff opponent; if they lost they’d get the fifth seed and a first-round playoff rematch with the defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat. Yet as the Bulls fell behind the New Jersey Nets and scrambled to get back in the game, a friend e-mailed me that the Sox were winning 1-0 and then 5-0 on homers by Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, and when I went to check it out online during a break in the Bulls’ game, I noticed the big 0 in the hits column for the visiting Texas Rangers with Mark Buehrle on the mound for the Sox. The Bulls tied it, but then fell behind by double digits, and at that point I was out of there, switching over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Buehrle’s last six outs were as efficient as he’d been all night long. He allowed only one walk–to Sammy Sosa, of all people–then picked him off first, a play so karmically fitting it almost made up for the loss of a perfect game. He worked fast and used a wicked slider, moving it in and out across the plate, to keep the Rangers entirely flummoxed. The last out, on the 27th man he faced–the minimum–was a slow roller to Joe Crede. Buehrle knew it was a done deal, and turned to hug catcher A.J. Pierzynski. The 15,000 or so fans in attendance (the gate was 25,390 on a cold night) went wild, and as Buehrle was interviewed on TV outside the Sox’ dugout immediately afterward his teammates emerged to give him a beer shower.
For Buehrle it was an abrupt turnaround and vindication. He struggled through much of last season, especially in the first inning, and after he was removed with an arm bruised from a line drive two starts ago, in his next start he again struggled early before settling down. When he got through the first inning unscathed against the Rangers Wednesday night, he ironically pointed thankfully to the heavens as he came off the field.
As for the Bulls, they again reminded fans that they’re not worthy of comparisons with the Michael Jordan era. A Jordan team would never have surrendered a second seed for a fifth in a loss to close the regular season, and the Jordan Bulls never would have let the Cleveland Cavaliers off when they had them by the throat, four points up in overtime, at the United Center a couple weeks ago. Now the team faces a hard road against the Heat and–even if they beat the champs — the top-seeded Detroit Pistons just to get to the NBA Finals against the superior Western Conference representative. Buehrle’s no-hitter served not so much to upstage them as to hide their shame.