KANSAS CITY — We all know the pitcher win is a flawed stat.
You can pitch atrociously, allowing nine runs over five innings, and be credited with a win because your offence scored 10 in the first. You can pitch masterfully, tossing eight shutout frames, and be charged with a loss because your defence committed an error in the ninth.
That’s why the stat can be so misleading and, a lot of the time, the pitcher has very little to do with it.
But when a starter wins 10 or more games for 15 straight years, as Mark Buehrle has now done after Saturday afternoon’s surgical 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals, it’s a rare occasion when the stat says something.
“That’s a dream pitcher to every organization,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “It proves the guy wins. You can almost bank on it. When you go into the season and the front offices put together their teams, they say, ‘well, we expect this out of this guy.’ He’s one of those rare birds that has done it every year for a long period of time.”
Buehrle’s been nothing short of dominant for the Blue Jays since the beginning of June, allowing two earned runs or less in eight straight outings. And with a bumpy start to the year well in the rear view, he’s now on pace to surpass 200 innings pitched for the 15th straight season as well.
Against the Royals he got seven more — needing just 85 pitches — as he allowed two runs on five hits, while striking out two.
“Hopefully I get 200 innings. To me, if you’re throwing 200 innings and making 33 starts, the ten wins should just come with the territory,” Buehrle said. “So, if I can get those other two marks that I’ve had for pretty much my whole career, I think that’ll mean a lot more.”
Everything that’s great and mind-boggling to watch about Buehrle, a 36-year-old contact pitcher who tops out at 84 mph and frequently cites “luck” as the primary cause of his success, was on display Saturday afternoon.
He let the Royals score almost immediately, after Alcides Escobar crushed the first pitch Buehrle threw for a double and came around on some Kansas City small-ball for an early 1-0 lead. But Buehrle went into clinic-mode after that, carving up the Royals batting order and sitting down 14 straight at one point on his way to throwing just 63 pitches — an incredible 50 of them for strikes — through his first five innings.
The ball that broke Buehrle’s streak of 14-straight? A lazy fly ball to shallow right field that Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis lost in the sun. Buehrle simply shrugged it off and got the next batter on three pitches.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Buehrle’s catcher, Russell Martin. “When he’s on, that’s what he does. He attacks the zone. He cuts it and sinks it to both sides of the plate, changes speed with his changeup. It’s not that his pitches are devastating but they all come off the same plane on both sides of the plate and that makes it really tough, especially when he’s not leaving anything over the middle of the plate.”
The temperature soared to 33 degrees Celsius Saturday afternoon and felt as hot as 37 with the humidity, which presented some challenges for Buehrle and Martin. Between innings they’d go back to the clubhouse tunnel to cool down, drinking tons of water and using ammonia towels to help keep their hydration and body temperature under control.
“It gets to a point with the humidity where as soon as you walk out there you just start sweating,” Buehrle said. “When the wind’s blowing it’s not as bad. But when the wind stops it’s just kind of hot, stale air in your face. That’s the bad part.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays offence managed to accomplish something that has been a strange struggle for them of late — plating a run.
Scoreless through three, the Blue Jays had gone 27 consecutive innings without scoring, a drought dating back to the team’s Wednesday night loss in Chicago. It was the club’s longest offensive lapse since the 1981 Blue Jays went 32 innings without a run.
But Edwin Encarnacion put an end to all that in the fourth, sending an 0-1 slider from Royals starter Chris Young just over the wall in left field. The Blue Jays tacked on another in the seventh, on a Jose Reyes infield single that scored Ezequiel Carrera from third base, and Danny Valencia, who came into the game in the sixth for Josh Donaldson who left with “flu-like symptoms,” capped it all off by crushing a 420-foot three-run homer in the ninth.
“Runs were few and far between in the last couple games, so today definitely gave us a little lift. You get the lead and you feel good about it,” Martin said. “We believe in our ability to hit. I didn’t feel like the guys were pressing or anything. But it definitely felt good. We definitely needed that.”
Regardless, this game was about the timeless Mark Buehrle, who took the mound on a blistering day in his home state and did what he’s done for 15 years. He’s been the Blue Jays best pitcher for the last month and a half, and the game’s most consistent pitcher for the last decade and a half, but most people think this season could be his last.
“I’d hate to see him retire. Maybe he won’t,” Gibbons said, hopefully. “He just doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.”