Holding on tight

Jose Contreras is giving manager Ozzie Guillen a pleasant problem as the White Sox move closer to an American League Central title.

After four inconsistent months, Contreras is providing more reason to feel better that the Sox didn't land a starting pitcher before the July 31 trading deadline.

Contreras continued his August dominance by blanking Seattle for six innings Saturday night before the Sox held on for a 4-3 victory at Safeco Field.

Contreras's pitching, combined with the power surge of Jermaine Dye, enabled the Sox (79-47) to extend their winning streak to four games and push their lead in the AL Central to nine games over Cleveland.

The Sox survived a scare in the final two innings. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski's sweeping tag on Ichiro Suzuki prevented Seattle from tying the game in the eighth.

In the ninth, left-hander Damaso Marte induced Yuniesky Betancourt to hit into a game-ending double play with the tying and winning runs on base.

Marte, who was closing because Dustin Hermanson had pitched in three straight games, assured the Sox of winning their first AL West road series since Aug. 28-30, 2000, at Oakland.

Despite a relative lack of offense, the Sox continue to prosper because of their starting pitching. In their last 10 games, Sox starters have posted a 2.69 ERA.

Contreras (9-7), who is scheduled to make his next start Thursday against Detroit, finished August with a 3-1 record and 2.14 ERA and no home runs allowed. Included during that span are two victories over the New York Yankees, a potential first-round opponent of the Sox in the AL playoffs.

The most noticeable change in Contreras is his switch of arm angles to a three-quarter delivery. He didn't allow a walk for the second straight start

After allowing a single to Richie Sexson in the second, Contreras retired the next 15 batters until Willie Bloomquist singled to start the seventh.

That became the start of Contreras' biggest test, as Raul Ibanez followed with another hit and Contreras fell behind 3-0 to Sexson.

But Contreras came back to strike out Sexson on a 94 m.p.h. fastball. Contreras hit Adrian Beltre and surrendered a two-run single to .182 hitter Greg Dobbs that cut the lead to 4-2. Guillen stuck with Contreras and was rewarded when Yorvit Torrealba grounded out and Betancourt flied to right.

The magic number for Contreras is three--as in runs. He improved to 23-2 lifetime in 36 starts in which he receives at least three runs of support.

Dye supported Contreras with his eighth career four-hit game. Dye staked Contreras to a 2-0 lead in the second on his 23rd home run, equaling his mark last year with Oakland.

Six of Dye's last seven hits have gone for extra bases, including a leadoff double in the fourth off Mariners starter Joel Pineiro (5-9).

Dye scored on consecutive singles by Geoff Blum and Juan Uribe, and Carl Everett added an important insurance run in the seventh on his 20th homer.

Before the game, the Sox and first baseman Paul Konerko seemed content to not start contract negotiations until after the season.

Konerko, who leads the Sox with 32 home runs and 80 RBIs, can become a free agent at the end of the season.

"It's up to the team to get the ball rolling with [negotiations]," Konerko said. "They chose not to, and that's perfectly fine. They have a right to conduct business the way they want to conduct business, and I'm perfectly fine with that."