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Stewart nearly perfect for White Sox

September 5, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — As he warmed in the bullpen, Zach Stewart could tell he was going to have a good night. Little did he know he would flirt with history on Monday at Target Field.

Stewart wasn’t perfect against the Twins, but came close as he delivered what was easily the best start of his career.

Stewart blanked the Twins, retiring 27 of 28 batters — perfect until Danny Valencia’s leadoff double in the eighth — as the White Sox swept the doubleheader with the 4-0 victory in the nightcap following a 2-1 win in the afternoon.

“It was a lot of fun. It was just one of those things,” Stewart said. “In the ‘pen, the ball was coming out good. I could tell it was going to be somewhat of a good night. I didn’t know it was going to be that good. But it just felt good from the beginning.”

In just his eighth career start, Stewart came within six outs of tossing what would have been third perfect game in White Sox history, and the first for the club since Mark Buehrle on July 23, 2009. He also would have been the first rookie to pitch a no-hitter since Boston’s Clay Buchholz no-hit the Orioles on Sept. 1, 2007, in his second career start.

Instead, Stewart settled for a one-hitter, the first complete game and shutout of his career. Stewart also had the first shutout by a White Sox rookie since Wilson Alvarez no-hit the Orioles at Baltimore on Aug. 11, 1991.

Stewart struck out a career-high nine while tossing a career-high 114 pitches and allowing only the one baserunner in the 62nd one-hitter in White Sox history and the first since Freddy Garcia on Aug. 23, 2005, also in Minnesota.

“I thought [a perfect game] was possible the way he was throwing the ball,” said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. “All day he had good sink. He was able to locate his offspeed pretty well. Just one pitch away, I guess.”

That one pitch was a sinker away to Twins third baseman Valencia, who sliced it to right field for a double leading off the eighth inning.

“It was tough because I fell behind real quick,” Valencia said. “But I knew eventually he’d try to backdoor me with a heater on the outside corner, and he made a pretty good pitch, but I was able to get the barrel out there.”

Stewart said he had to tip his cap to Valencia, who made a good swing on a good pitch.

After he surrendered the perfect game, Stewart was almost more impressive over the final two innings. He retired the final six Twins he faced, getting a groundout, popout, three straight strikeouts and a groundout to end the game.

Said Stewart of his performance after the double: “Yeah, I’ve given up hits before, so I guess you just get used to it.”

Chicago scored first with a run in the second on three singles, and added another in the fifth with a Brent Lillibridge double and Alexei Ramirez single. The White Sox also scored two more in the seventh on three singles and a walk.

The four runs of support likely helped Stewart remain in the game after the eighth. Lefty Chris Sale was warming in the bullpen, and would have come in if Joe Mauer got to the plate, manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Stewart breezed through the first four innings, needing just 40 pitches to retire the first 12 batters he faced. He also got some defensive help from the left side of the infield, as Brent Morel made a pair of nice plays on grounders and Ramirez saved a hit on a liner to short.

Morel made a diving stop at third base and threw to first to retire Trevor Plouffe for the second out in the fourth. With two outs in the sixth, Morel added another tough stop and a strong throw to retire Drew Butera.

After a long flyout to right by Plouffe for the second out in the seventh, Mauer ripped a hard liner toward short that looked like it could get through for the Twins’ first hit. But Ramirez took a couple steps to his right and snagged it to keep the perfect game intact.

It was after that lineout to Ramirez that Stewart really made it seem as though he could finish it off with only two innings to go.

“When Mauer hit that lineout to end the seventh, I was like ‘OK, this looks like it might happen,'” said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who watched Stewart’s performance from the dugout. “Because when balls get hit like that, that’s usually what you look for in perfect games or no-hitters. It didn’t work out, but it was still a good game.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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