CLEVELAND -- Although there has been no official proclamation issued by the White Sox, Tuesday's contest against the Blue Jays at U.S. Cellular Field figures to double as Mark Buehrle Appreciation Night for the fans.
The veteran southpaw will make his 31st and final start in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season, figuring to last about five innings before leaving to what shapes up as one of many ovations. This effort also could be the last game pitched for the White Sox by one of the organization's greatest hurlers, whose four-year, $56 million deal ends after the current campaign.
Buehrle picked up his 12th victory on Wednesday night at Progressive Field, ending up on the winning end of the White Sox 8-4 decision over the Indians. It was the typical humorous and laid-back Buehrle (12-9) addressing the media after the game, not showing any sign of emotion that this incredible run might soon be following a different path.
That emotion might be a little different for Buehrle in Chicago.
"When the day gets here, it might be a little more [emotional]," said Buehrle, who threw 97 pitches against the Indians. "But this is all I've known for 12-13 years of my life, so I think going into it ..."
There was a brief pause from Buehrle. He then continued with more thoughts on his future.
"In my mind, I still think I'll come back because, again, every Spring Training I've gone to the same spot and you're ready to go with the same team," Buehrle said. "Deep down inside, that's all I'm looking at. You try to tell yourself not to be emotional or, 'Hey, there's a chance you're coming back.' But there's the chance you're not coming back, either."
With 7 2/3 innings thrown against the Indians, Buehrle would have reached 200 innings pitched for the season. Buehrle's trip to the mound marked his 30th start, so he would have his 11th straight season of at least 30 starts, 200 innings and double-digit victories.
Wednesday ended with Buehrle sitting 1 2/3 innings short of increasing the longest active streak in the Majors. Buehrle certainly could have gone back out for at least the seventh, but now he can accomplish this feat in front of the adoring South Side faithful.
"Even if I did it here, I'm still making that start at home," Buehrle said. "I don't think it matters. Hopefully, I don't go out there for 1 2/3 innings and take a line drive off my head where I come out. I'd like to get to 200, but if something happens and I don't, it's not the end of the world."
"Having that type of game the way he did today, he bounced back very well," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "He had a little bit of team support out there, but that's the Buehrle we see every time."
Against the Indians (76-78), whose second-place lead over the White Sox (76-79) dropped to a half-game, Buehrle gave up two runs on four hits over six innings and struck out two. Those two runs came via Travis Hafner's towering home run to right with two outs in the sixth.
Cleveland didn't have much time to enjoy that advantage. After scoring just once in six innings against Ubaldo Jimenez (4-3) on Tyler Flowers' double in the fifth, the White Sox pushed across three in the seventh. Brent Morel launched the game-tying double to score Dayan Viciedo from first, and following a Gordon Beckham walk and a wild pitch, Alejandro De Aza singled home two runs with two outs.
De Aza has produced two hits and two RBIs in each of the three games of this series against the Indians, leading Guillen to refer to him as the "best overall player on the White Sox" right now.
"I'm talking about fielding, running, big hits for us, stealing bases," said Guillen of De Aza, who is hitting .328 with 23 RBIs. "He's been doing everything for us. He's been outstanding."
"It's never enough, but I'm happy," De Aza said. "I'm just trying to keep grinding and taking what they give me. I'm just trying to put the ball in play and hopefully something good could happen."
Alexei Ramirez (15th), Morel (ninth) and Alex Rios (12th) all went deep in the eighth off reliever Chad Durbin to secure the victory, capped off by a perfect ninth from Sergio Santos. The White Sox closer carried an 11.12 September ERA into the contest.
Fortunes had not exactly been shining on Buehrle during three straight losses leading into Wednesday, in which he gave up 20 earned runs on 33 hits in 15 1/3 innings. The cagey veteran has been hit before, and bounced back without a hitch.
"He threw strikes and changed speeds. He cut the ball in on our guys. He did what he does best," said Cleveland manager Manny Acta. "He tries to keep guys off balance, and he did that very well today."
All that's left now for Buehrle is 1 2/3 innings in Tuesday's start. It will be his last 2011 performance, which also could mark the end of an era.
"If he comes back, it will be special," said Guillen, adding that Buehrle means as much to the White Sox as any pitcher in the organization's storied history. "White Sox fans should go out there and support him and get behind him the way they always did."
"Even though there's the possibility of it happening, I'm going out there like I'm coming back next year," said Buehrle, who put his potential return on what the White Sox want to do. "I'll try not to make a big deal of it."