When the Toronto Blue Jays traded for Mark Buehrle, they knew exactly what they were getting. A workhorse, who had completed 200 innings in his last 11 seasons and who produced 12-16 wins per season. They knew he would be reliable on the field, and they knew of the type of guy he was in the clubhouse.
Buehrle’s career is incredible. He was drafted in the 38th round of 1998 MLB Draft out of tiny Jefferson College in Missouri and has done nothing but succeed at the major league level. Possessing one of the slowest fastballs in baseball, Buehrle still has hitters guessing and produces some funky swings. Watching Buehrle pitch is like watching an artist beautifully paint a masterpiece. Every pitch is gorgeous and trying to get into the mind of a 15-year veteran is nearly impossible. He can cut you, change speeds on you, and drop a beautiful curveball when you least expect it. He can get late swings out of the best hitters with an 83-mile-per-hour fastball.
Heading into the season, Buehrle had completed 14 straight seasons of 200 IP or more, which is a feat only accomplished by baseball greats like Gaylord Perry, Greg Maddux, and Don Sutton. He was the most reliable pitcher in the Blue Jays’ rotation, and you felt good every time he started. Watching him enjoy himself and carve hitters up all night was entertaining and satisfying. He had thrown a perfect game and a no-hitter in his career. He had done everything, and had very little left to prove in professional baseball.
Buehrle gave his heart and soul to the Blue Jays, and he kept them afloat when every other starter was getting rocked. In June and July he produced ERAs of 1.82 and 1.75, respectively, and was having the best start to a season in a long time.
As the season faded into the dog days of August and September, you could tell just watching him pitch that it wasn’t the same. He was getting older and tired; his pitches didn’t have the same finesse to them, and he looked flat. His starts were being skipped because of his unreliability and body aches, but you could still see Buehrle in the dugout, giving his years of advice to young guns like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna. As the changing of the guard began in Toronto, the teacher, the mentor, “Papa Buehrle” as he was so affectionally called by his teammates, looked like his career was in jeopardy, along with his 200-IP streak.
The Blue Jays have appreciated Buehrle’s work throughout the season, on and off the field. Whether he’s striking hitters out or molding young guys into veterans and teaching them the ropes through his example, Buehrle has been an integral part of the 2015 Blue Jays’ success. He is the perfect teammate, and the Blue Jays returned the favor and tried their best in allowing him to reach 200 IP. He headed into the last game of the season two innings short of 200 and had just pitched two days earlier. The Blue Jays were in a race for home-field advantage against the Kansas City Royals, needing a win and Royals loss to secure it. Home-field advantage is massive in the playoffs, but something bigger and even more important was getting Mark Buehrle his 15th consecutive season of 200 IP. Home field could end up anywhere after the first round, and some things are more important than others.
The Blue Jays ran Buehrle out on the last day of the season, on two days rest, to pitch the two innings he thoroughly deserved. Unfortunately, a couple errors and a grand slam ended the dream and the streak at 198.2 innings pitched. Buehrle wound up 1.1 innings shy of extending his streak. The Blue Jays lost the game 12-3, the Royals won and got home-field advantage, but the players could not care less. They went out there with passion and love for their teammate. They were willing to give all they could to give Mr. Buehrle his storybook ending. It didn’t happen, but the decision was right. It showed that the Blue Jays are a classy organization and have the backs of their players and staff. It put them under a new light, a bright light that shows how players’ successes are as important as team successes.
Mark Buehrle, thank you for doing everything you have done for baseball. Thank you for having a smile on your face every time you stepped on the field. Thank you for showing everyone what a great teammate looks like, and thank you for being a class act off the field. You are Hall of Fame worthy — your teammates think so, and your fans think so.