Vazquez fearsome in 5th spot

Javier Vazquez was too good Wednesday, and he was so impressive during spring training that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen thought about elevating him to his third or fourth starter.

But Vazquez fits comfortably at the back of the redoubtable five-man Sox rotation that reached a zenith when Vazquez pitched 61/3 no-hit innings as he and relievers Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks combined on a 4-0 victory to complete a three-game sweep of Kansas City.

Vazquez showed why he was an ace for the final four of his six seasons with Montreal and last season with Arizona. But with the Sox, he's merely trying to carry the pitching torch.

"They're all unique," said slugger Jim Thome, relieved he's supporting the formidable five rather than opposing them. "They have different styles and they complement the guy behind them."

Vazquez was following an act that saw No. 3 starter Jose Contreras throw seven innings of one-hit ball Monday and Jon Garland's 61/3 innings of one-run ball Tuesday.

Vazquez couldn't recall pitching better than he did in the Sox's fifth straight victory against a Royals team that lost for the 10th straight time and didn't start regulars Mark Grudzielanek, Mike Sweeney and Reggie Sanders.

"Vazquez was really good, probably better than he was in Kansas City," Royals manager Buddy Bell said, referring to Vazquez's April 8 start when he pitched seven innings of two-run ball. "I don't want to take anything away from him, but I think he caught us at a pretty good time."

But Vazquez's résumé includes a one-hitter at Los Angeles on Sept. 14, 1999—with Grudzielanek getting the hit and Sox backup Chris Widger catching.

So Vazquez wasn't about to beat himself up after jamming Doug Mientkiewicz on a slider that resulted in a check-swing infield hit up the third-base line in the seventh.

"What can you do?" Vazquez asked. "It's part of the game."

Vazquez and his teammates weren't about to dwell on the hit, a true sign that they treated this game with the focus of a September pennant race.

Vazquez, who retired the first 12 batters, calmly induced Matt Stairs to ground into an inning-ending double play to erase Mientkiewicz.

"I was aware of [the no-hit bid], but I wasn't thinking about it," Vazquez said. "It's too hard to throw a no-hitter."

This was Vazquez at his best, a reason why the New York Yankees gave him a four-year, $45 million contract after acquiring him from Montreal and why Arizona traded for him last year as a replacement for five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson.

Unlike his outing Friday, when he was tagged for seven runs in six innings in a loss to Toronto, Vazquez's breaking pitches were effective because he kept his arm angle high.

Although Guillen suggested Vazquez may have been tipping his pitches Friday, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said he was unaware of that.

For now, the toughest competition exists within the Sox rotation, with Vazquez keeping up his end of the bargain. During their five-game winning streak, Sox starters have compiled a 1.57 ERA.