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Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, left, is embraced by teammates including catcher Ramon Castro after throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in a baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2009, in Chicago. The White Sox won 5-0. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching) Photo by: AP

The week in baseball: A perfect game for Mark Buehrle

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Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle, left, is embraced by teammates including catcher Ramon Castro after throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays in a baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2009, in Chicago. The White Sox won 5-0. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching) Photo by: AP

It has been a lucky week to be a baseball fan. We’ve been treated to a perfect game, some big trades and even bigger trade rumors, and a shifting of power in the American League East. There has been a drought of big stories this season, so the drama of some fantastic games, coupled with the upcoming trade deadline gives columnists and sports enthusiasts fodder for conversation. Also, for once, it’s some good news (though, I’ll touch upon some turmoil caused by the New York Mets Vice President of Player Development Tony Bernazard). No steroids, no bad attitudes, no scandals at all. Yes, it’s been a fun week, and a week worth recapping as Yankee fans continue to celebrate their place atop the AL East, and Mets fans try to find other stories that can distract them from their disaster of a season. It’s been a story of the good, the bad, and the perfect.

Mark Buehrle’s Perfect Game

We haven’t seen one since Randy Johnson in 2004, and we’ve only seen 18 in the history of the majors. Buehrle, the White Sox hurler, pitched a perfect game - where he retired 27 batters without allowing a hit or a walk through the entire game - that ended in a terrific catch, blanking the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays.

This is one of the rarest of feats in baseball, behind some oddities that are actually kept on record. For instance, while a perfect game has only been accomplished 18 times, only two pitchers have pitched 20 or more consecutive scoreless innings, and only one pitcher has struck out ten consecutive batters in a game. A perfect game is not as rare as when a player hits four homeruns in a single game, which has only happened 15 times. As I said before, the last time we even saw a perfect game was when Randy Johnson, at 40 years of age, threw a gem against the Atlanta Braves on 117 pitches and 13 strikeouts. Buehrle’s perfect game ended after 116 pitches and six strikeouts and an incredible catch by DeWayne Wise.

Buehrle had two strikes and two balls on Gabe Kapler in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Kapler looked tense as Buehrle had a long look at the plate. Catcher and former Met Ramon Castro set up to his right in the wind up. The pitch, a soft change-up, hit its mark- in the center of the plate. Kapler saw his chance and jumped on it as he delivered a homerun ball to center field. Wise was moving at the crack of the bat and sprinted toward the wall, leaping to the homerun line and scooping the ball out of there air as he tumbled forward, grabbing the loose ball from the air as he tumbled sideways. He jumped up, ball in hand, and let everybody in U.S. Cellular Field know that their hurler, Buehrle, accomplished something great. It was a perfect end to a perfect game.

The trade deadline on July 31 has almost arrived. For now, all eyes are on Toronto Blue Jays ace, six-time All-Star, and Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay’s next move. Halladay is 11-3 on the season with 123 strikeouts, only 20 walks, and an impressive 2.62 ERA. On his career, this right-hander has a career record 142-69 record, with an ERA of 3.46 and 1,400 strikeouts. He’s one of the major aces of our age of baseball, and nearly any team could give their clubhouse a shot with his addition. Unfortunately for the National League East, the major contender in the bid for Halladay was, at first, from the first-place Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies have backed down on their trade talks with the Jays and Halladay. Though the Phillies, with their 54-39 record sit pretty six games above the Florida Marlins in the standings, they still were warm to the idea of bringing Halladay on to supplement newly acquired Pedro Martinez, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and J.A. Happ. Rumors indicate that the Jays would have wanted nothing short of Happ, starting pitcher Kyle Drabek, and outfielder Dominic Brown for Halladay, which to me seems like a deal, but the Phillies must feel comfortable without the super-star addition to their line-up because the trade may not go through. The Jays would be perfectly happy keeping Halladay, but he’s too much of an asset to have only one team vying for him. Look for some more rumors in the week to come.

 Trouble with the Mets

Two weeks ago I went into detail about the Jeff Francoeur, Ryan Church trade between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets, but they haven’t exactly made an impact on either team. The Braves are still seven games behind the Phillies and the Mets are back ten games. They keep losing (even to the 29-67 Washington Nationals) and now they have VP of player development Bernazard to deal with. In brief, it appears Bernazard’s recent technique to motivate their minor leaguers is to challenge them to a fight. Excellent. For a team that’s been coming up short with their farm system, this isn’t exactly news a Mets fan is happy to read. Their minor league team, Double-A Binghamton, is in last place in their division and appear to be as bad as the Mets this season. I’ll make this brief, because I spent too much time worrying about the Mets last week. They need new management, a new attitude, some new talent, and a healthy team if they want a chance of competing. General Manager Omar Minaya, please don’t get too comfortable.

 A St. Louis Holliday

 The Oakland A’s were pleased with the consistent and powerful bat of Matt Holliday during his half-season stint with the clubhouse. Apparently they were more interested in shedding the left-fielder (who was hitting for a .286 average with 54 RBIs and 11 homeruns) in the interest of next season. The A’s are sitting in last place in the AL West with a 41-54 record, so their acquisition of three minor leaguers is an indication that they want to move on and focus on developing their team for the future. That’s a good thing for the first place St. Louis Cardinals who now have a solid outfielder to help bolster their defense and run-scoring capabilities. In Holliday’s first game as a Cardinal against the Phillies he raked in an RBI off four hits and he stole a base. He was a fan-favorite in his five years in Colorado as a Rockie (his career stats are impressive with a .317 batting average, 539 RBIs, and 139 homeruns) and looks to be a staple in the Cardinals organization as they vie for their second World Championship in three years.

A Power Shift in the AL East

Yankees fans must be breathing a sigh of relief this week. The perennial best in the AL East have finally overtaken their Boston Rivals in the standings. It’s happened off the Yankees eight-game winning streak where the Boston Red Sox lost five out of six. It was a flimsy lead at best anyway, and the Yanks look like they are cruising. Their starting pitching has been on fire, with reliever Phil Hughes throwing 22 consecutive scoreless innings, and with the offense outscoring their opponents 29-17 in the past week. Not exactly Yankee-esque numbers, but pretty good nonetheless.

The Red Sox have attempted to regain their composure with the acquisition of first baseman Adam LaRoche from the Pittsburgh Pirates. They sent two prospects to the Pirates for the big slugger. LaRoche has been in a slump lately (he’s hit for a .247 average with 12 homeruns and 40 RBIs this season, but hit a 0-22 run), but he’s still one of the better players out there right now and will help them as Mike Lowell rests his strained hip. Either way, this is a smart move on manager Terry Francona’s part. The Yankees are coming off the mid-season classic firing on all cylinders, and a game and a half ahead of the Red Sox. They can smell the playoffs.

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