CHICAGO -- There was a comment made by Mark Buehrle, shortly after throwing the second perfect game in White Sox franchise history, that perfectly summed up the surprise of the day's event, even for the left-hander.
"I don't know how to explain it," Buehrle told reporters back on July 23, 2009, six years ago today. "I never thought I'd throw a no-hitter, I never thought I'd throw a perfect game, I never thought I'd hit a home run. Never say never in this game, because crazy stuff can happen."
That home run, launched by Buehrle on June 14, 2009, in Milwaukee, might be the biggest cause for shock to anyone who has watched him swing. The 2007 no-hitter against the Rangers and that perfect game against the Rays, both at U.S. Cellular Field, might seem out of character to some, considering Buehrle rarely broke 90 mph with his fastball then and currently tops out at around 83-to-85 mph.
The perfect game itself was a Thursday afternoon getaway day against the Rays, before the White Sox moved on to Detroit for an American League Central first-place showdown.
Jermaine Dye, right fielder: "Buehrle is Buehrle and that's the reason he's still pitching. He gets guys out. He doesn't care who you are when you step in that box. He's going to go out there and do his best to keep you off balance and help his team win."
Pat Burrell's long fly out to right-center field became the first challenge to the perfect game, but Dye hauled in the drive to end the second. Gabe Kapler lined out to left fielder Carlos Quentin to lead off the third, but Kapler would be heard from again before the afternoon was complete.
Meanwhile, Josh Fields hit a grand slam off of Scott Kazmir, with two outs in the second, to provide Buehrle all the run support he would need.
Dye: "As a defender, you get more into the game because now you don't want to be that guy who makes the mistake."
Buehrle: "I think if you start telling yourself you have a no-hitter, perfect game, whatever, you're going to worry about messing up a pitch or making a mistake."
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper, who worked with Buehrle from 2000 to 2011: "I was having conversations all game. It wasn't like, 'Nobody speak to him or stay away from him.' It wasn't any of that stuff. I remember after the seventh inning, and any time we've had a no-hitter or perfect game -- and we've had a few -- every time after the seventh, I turned to whoever is next to me and said, 'Now it's real.'"
Rookie Gordon Beckham, who was completing his second month in the Majors and at third base, made two slick plays in the sixth to keep the perfect game going. Buehrle then fought back from a 3-0 count to get Jason Bartlett on a groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez to end the sixth.
When Burrell lined out to Beckham to end the eighth, the perfect game idea turned very real.
"Call your sons, call your daughters, call your friends, call your neighbors," Ken "Hawk" Harrelson said on the broadcast. "Mark Buehrle has a perfect game going into the ninth."
If there's one moment that defines this piece of history, it was Dewayne Wise's spectacular catch on Kapler's 2-2 shot, which headed for the left-center field stands to open the ninth. Wise entered the game in the ninth as a defensive replacement by manager Ozzie Guillen.
Scott Podsednik: "One of the biggest parts of that was me moving from center to left field, and then Dewayne Wise coming into center to make that unbelievable catch. That's what pops out."
Wise raced back to the wall, as the crowd audibly groaned upon Kapler impact, leaped on the run and threw his right hand over the wall to rob Kapler of a homer. He juggled the ball on the way down but still managed to hold on with his left hand.
Harrelson: "The last thing I do before every pitch is I check the outfielders to see where they play. So when the ball is hit, you have a good idea as to whether they can get it or not. Wise played more shallow than anybody in the American League. I saw him, and when Kapler hit the ball, I didn't think he could get there."
Wise (to ESPN Mag in 2009): "I hit the wall with my right shoulder, the one I'd separated earlier in the year. Didn't care. If I had to flip over the wall to make the catch, I was going to do it. I knew the ball hit my glove -- an old, flabby, black Rawlings 4JB model I've had for about five years. It's 12 3/4 inches, which is considered small for an outfielder's glove. I didn't know if the ball stayed in there, and then I saw it coming out. I stuck my left hand out and caught it in my bare hand as I hit the turf."
Buehrle struck out Michel Hernandez on a 3-2 change, and achieved perfection on Bartlett's groundout to Ramirez, completing the game in just 2 hours, 3 minutes.
"Alexei … Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! History!!!" was the often-repeated call from Harrelson after the final out.
Harrelson: "I had tears in my eyes after Alexei threw that last out."
Ramirez: "I wanted that the ball comes to me but by fly, not by rolling. I wanted it to be a fly ball because I was a little tight with my ankle. When the batter hit the ball, I just said to myself, 'Hey, you have to take it, no matter what.' I did it. It was the most exciting moment for me."
Even the postgame celebration was a bit out of the ordinary. As Buehrle spoke to the media in the U.S. Cellular Conference and Learning Center, White Sox vice president of communications Scott Reifert received an important phone call that he didn't know was important at the moment.
Reifert: "My phone rang and I had it on vibrate, and I looked down and it said unknown number. Normally when it says unknown number, I hit ignore. Normally it's [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] or Major League Baseball. So, Jerry is standing next to me. I didn't have to worry about it. I hit ignore. Seconds later, his phone rings loud in the middle of the press conference and he answers it. Well, it was the White House. They tried me and didn't get me and then tried Jerry. He said, 'The President would like to speak to Mark.'"
A flipcam had recently been purchased by the White Sox, and Reifert put former media relations staffer Marty Maloney in charge of figuring it out.
Reifert: "We were going down the hallway to Jerry's office to take the call, and I ran into Marty and I said, 'Hey Marty, grab the flipcam. Do you know how to use it?' He said no, and I said, 'You have about 10 seconds to learn.' To his credit, he grabbed it, came in, filmed I think 26 seconds of Mark talking to President Obama, and it was on CBS Evening News that night. It was a neat moment."
President Obama is a noted White Sox fan.
Buehrle: "I was more nervous talking to him and trying on my end not to say something stupid. But I was just sitting there in the press conference and somebody says, 'Hey, the President wants to talk to you.'"
The first perfect game in club history was thrown by Charlie Robertson on April 30, 1922, and Philip Humber threw one for Chicago on April 21, 2012, but Buehrle's perfecto holds a special place in team lore, because of his impact across the organization, having pitched for the White Sox for 11 years and helping them end their 88-year World Series drought in 2005.
Harrelson: "He is my favorite White Sox player of all time."
Reifert: "It couldn't happen to a better guy, obviously. I'm not alone in that. Thousands of people feel that way."