CHICAGO — Mark Buehrle sat in front of his locker Tuesday afternoon signing more than a dozen copies of the Sports Illustrated cover with PERFECT across the top.
"I get a couple a day," Buehrle said. "I try to sign as many as I can."
Nine months later, the magazine is a prized souvenir of the last time Buehrle pitched against the Rays, July 23, 2009, when he was, well, perfect, retiring them 27 up and 27 down.
Because of the significance of the accomplishment (the 18th perfect game in MLB history), and the frequency in which highlights appear on TV, both Buehrle and the Rays have thought about it at times since.
But Buehrle said he's not taking the mound tonight thinking about a repeat.
"All I'm looking for is a win," he said. "I'm not going to be thinking about last time I faced them and what happened. It's a new year. I could have faced them the start after that and I could have given up 20 runs. They have a great team, they're on a hot streak. I'm just going to go out there and try to hold them down."
The Rays, similarly, say they're not going into the game thinking they could be blanked again. But they haven't forgotten how it felt, either.
"It's still in the back of our minds," B.J. Upton said. "We didn't forget."
The one moment that stands out to most was the spectacular catch by DeWayne Wise to rob Gabe Kapler of what looked to be — and what manager Joe Maddon was sure was — a homer leading off the ninth.
"I remember that he pitched remarkably well," Kapler said. "I remember him controlling the pace of the game. And I remember all the events of the last couple innings."
Rays SS Jason Bartlett, though, has a different memory: "I always see the replay of the last out, which was me, so it's hard not to remember it."
CATCHING ON: With Kelly Shoppach sidelined until at least June following right knee surgery Monday, John Jaso — barring the unexpected acquisition of a veteran — will play a couple times a week as Dioner Navarro's backup.
While the Rays will miss Shoppach's experience and knowledge of opponents, Maddon said he has been "really pleased" with what he has seen of Jaso, 26, with plans to start him next on Thursday.
"I think it's a great opportunity for John," Maddon said. "This is a chance for him to really get that feeling or sense of belonging as a major-league player. He's definitely capable physically and he is capable mentally, I'm just saying he needs to go out there and really understand the daily grind of being a big-league catcher."
Jaso said he knows he still has a lot to learn, such as how the pitchers "have a definite plan and have things they really like to do, and a lot of them have it written down and stuff like that, and you really don't see that in the minor leagues."
MINOR MATTERS: RHP Aneury Rodriguez, the pitcher acquired from Colorado last year for RHP Jason Hammel, made an impressive debut after being promoted from Double A to Durham, scattering four hits over seven innings and not allowing a runner past second. … INF Dan Johnson hit his International League-leading sixth homer. … SS Tim Beckham homered in the 10th to lead Class A Charlotte's 7-6 win.
MISCELLANY: Navarro is hitless in his past 15 at-bats. … The Rays took batting practice on the field for the first time since Monday, the product of bad weather and having three day games on the trip. … Noting Carl Crawford's two sacrifice bunts in the first 13 games (his season high is six), Maddon said he expects Crawford to also start bunting for hits.