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Opening Day memories: When under-appreciated Mark Buehrle made the play of the year on Opening Day

Sporting News — (Joe Rivera)

With Opening Day 2020 delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Sporting News staffers look back at their most memorable Opening Days from the past.

Anything can happen on Opening Day. 

That's the beauty of baseball — Game 1 can matter as much as Game 162. The divisional series you play the first week in April can come back to haunt you in division races. March 26 means as much as Sept. 27.

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Truth be told, I hadn't attended an Opening Day until 2019, when I was covering for SN. Believe it: There is some kind of aura and mystique about Opening Day that just isn't there in other sports. There's an optimism, a hope, that every fanbase has, even if the overall outlook is bleak.

Well, aside from waxing poetic about being at Opening Day, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch something special on TV. Case in point: White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle on April 5, 2010.

It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since the lefty made this play (almost as hard as it is to remember how to spell his last name on a consistent basis), but it's something that's burned into my brain. The play held up for the entire 2010 season, ending up as the play of the year in many people's eyes.

Sometimes baseball is just dumb luck, right? Even on their best swing, batters can't control exactly where the ball lands. Pitchers aren't always going to make that perfect pitch, even if they have the most precise release point.

Maybe that's why this play is so iconic: It had a little bit of everything. The blind flick between the legs by Buehrle and the sneaky-good bare-handed snag by Paul Konerko. A dash of that dumb luck with legitimately good fielding.

Let's remember, Buehrle was no slouch at fielding his position. At the time he made this play, he was coming off his first Gold Glove season on the mound, and he would win three more consecutively after that.

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But aside from being great at fielding his position, Buehrle was a better pitcher than many remember. He was the definition of dependable and consistent, especially during a time when the AL Central was typically a three-team race among the White Sox, Tigers and Twins, with the Indians having a few decent teams in there as well. Buehrle was also a member of the 2005 world champion White Sox, one of the most forgotten, great teams over the past two decades. He was worth 52.3 fWAR/60 bWAR in his career, so he was a very productive, good pitcher and definitely better than many probably realize.

Buehrle was a workhorse, too: He pitched more than 200 innings in every season except his rookie year (51 1/3 innings) and his last (198 2/3 innings). While some of his career advanced numbers are decent (4.11 FIP and a 117 ERA+), Buehrle was never the type of pitcher who would be a favorite for the Cy Young, but he was always the guy you'd trust as a No. 2. He finished top 5 in Cy Young voting one time.

While Buehrle retired following the 2015 season after three years with the Blue Jays and one with the Marlins, his No. 56 was retired in June 2017, going down in White Sox history as one of the best pitchers the franchise has seen.

Oh, and by the way, Buehrle pitched a perfect game in 2009, following up his 2007 no-hitter.

It must be nice to be remembered for something, right?