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White Sox still have chance in ‘11; no time to dwell on free agency

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle right bumps fists with catcher Tyler Flowers left after manager Ozzie Guillen took

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, right, bumps fists with catcher Tyler Flowers, left, after manager Ozzie Guillen took Buehrle out of the game with two outs in the top of the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Monday, Aug. 29, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:21AM

When the White Sox played their last game of the 2010 season, manager Ozzie Guillen wondered if he was seeing the last of first baseman Paul Konerko and catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the team’s colors.

That day is coming again for Guillen with left-hander Mark Buehrle, who will be eligible for free agency after this season.

‘‘I know it will be on my mind [in his last start], like it was last year with PK and A.J.,’’ Guillen said
before the Sox’ game Monday against the Minnesota Twins. ‘‘It might be [the last day] for both of us. Who knows?’’

It is a badly kept baseball secret that the Florida Marlins want Guillen to be their manager next season.
But with another year on his contract, the suspense will hinge on whether Guillen feels he is no longer welcome with the Sox after eight seasons as their manager.

Buehrle’s situation is different. It’s more about dollars as the Sox balance payroll concerns with the possibility that left-hander Chris Sale might be a longer-term and less costly replacement for Buehrle in the rotation.

For now, though, Buehrle remains a key to the Sox’ playoff hopes. He proved that again by pitching
72/3 scoreless innings in their 3-0 victory against the Twins. The result moved the Sox two games above .500 for the first time since
April 13 and enabled them to pull to five games of the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers.

‘‘It seemed like he got stronger later,’’ Guillen said of Buehrle (11-6), whose quick work helped complete the game in 2 hours, 4 minutes — the shortest game of the season. ‘‘I think his cutter was outstanding, and he mixed it with his changeup. He is what he is.’’

Buehrle allowed four hits and
improved to 2-1 with an 0.29 ERA in four starts against the Twins this season.

‘‘It was a little better than my last game in Anaheim,’’ he said. ‘‘I had my location. Everything was working, and it’s so much fun throwing to [catcher] Tyler [Flowers] — a big target and the way he frames the ball. He calls a good game.’’

Flowers, who also helped offensively with an RBI double in the seventh against Kevin Slowey (0-3), returned the compliment.

‘‘It’s a lot of fun catching him,’’ Flowers said. ‘‘He pounds the zone. He trusts me. There’s a lot of satisfaction at the end when there are so many zeros up there.

‘‘He always kids, ‘You better have a good game plan.’ I guess we did. He only missed the strike zone a couple of times and shook me off once. It’s a pretty good way to pitch.’’

The Twins advanced a runner to second only three times. The last was in the eighth, when Buehrle walked Tsuyoshi Nishioka to start the inning. Nishioka took second on a sacrifice before Buehrle retired Trevor Plouffe for the second out. That was the last batter he faced, with Jesse Crain coming on to strike out Michael Cuddyer to end the
inning. Sergio Santos pitched the ninth to earn his 27th save.

‘‘Somebody joked that Team Charlotte is doing it for us the last couple of games,’’ Buehrle said of Class AAA call-ups Flowers, Dayan Viciedo (2-for-3, run scored, RBI, stolen base) and Alejandro De Aza (2-for-3, run scored, stolen base). ‘‘We have to keep on playing.
Detroit isn’t going to lose every game, and we aren’t going to win them all. Detroit’s not going away, and I think they know we’re not,

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