Dark clouds hang over White Sox Nation.

The final indignity of a season of disappointments will likely soon come, with the contract of stellar lefthander Mark Buehrle expiring today with the end of the 2011 season. With the Sox poised to go into rebuilding mode, it is doubtful the free agent pitcher is part of the team plans moving forward. And that is a shame.

Over the past 11 seasons, Buehrle has been hands-down my favorite player in baseball. For a fan who treats baseball like his religion, this off-season is going to hurt. Last night’s performance — 7 innings, no runs, no walks and pitching out of jams caused by two errors — was typical of the man who can barely hit 89 MPH on the radar gun, yet has consistently fooled the best hitters in baseball with his great control and ability to throw first-pitch strikes. A tater served up by reliever Jesse Crain was the only run allowed in a hollow 2-1 victory.

In the 8th inning, pitching coach/manager-for-the day Don Cooper pulled his starter in a time honored tradition of giving the fans the chance to show their appreciation with a standing ovation. Grown men weeped. Or at least got a bit misty, and not just because of the steady rain cloud Chicago has been living under for the past week.

So if this is the end of No. 56 in a White Sox uniform, then I salute the man with my Top 5 favorite moments of his career:

5) 04.16.2006: “The Slide.”

Mark Buehrle’s headfirst dive onto the tarp during a rain delay was the best thing to happen to rain delays since Rick Dempsey and Don Stanhouse of the 1983 Baltimore Orioles performed a reenactment of Milwaukee Brewer Robin Yount’s game winning home run off Jim Palmer on the final day of the 1982 season.

 

4) 04.05.2010: Opening day kick save at US Cellular Field vs. Cleveland

3) 04.18.2007: The first no-hitter

2) 07.23.2009: The Perfect Game

1) 10.23.2005 and 10.25.2005: A win and a save in the World Series.

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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