It not only had a playoff feel, it had playoff blueprint. And a playoff result.
Jose Contreraswho started each of the three White Sox postseason series openers last yearpitched his first career shutout Friday night as the White Sox pounced on the Tigers 5-0 on a cool Friday evening in what was being billed as the biggest series of the season.
This was the old tried-and-true formula from the championship seasonexcellent starting pitching, flawless defense and timely big hitsthat helped the Sox to within 7½ games of the Tigers in the American League Central and boosted their wild-card playoff lead over the Twins to 1½ games.
"This game dictated a little hope and faith for what we should do," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "If we're going to pitch, we're going to win."
Contreras, who had won only one of his last five starts, scattered three hits in the Sox's third complete game.
"We needed that," Guillen said. "Hopefully, his teammates and fellow starters will step it up a notch. It has been a while since we have had a good week from our starting rotation."
With Contreras handling the Tigers, Jim Thome and A.J. Pierzynski handled the offense with two-run homers in the fifth inning that ignited a hyped-up Elvis Night crowd of 39,378 at U.S. Cellular Field.
For Thome, who came into the game in an 0-for-10 slump, it was his 35th homer of the season, breaking a tie with Robin Ventura (1996) for most by a Sox left-handed hitter in one season. And there are still 48 games left, nine against the Tigers.
The Sox are 7-3 against Detroit, which now has lost three games in a row. Its longest losing streak of the season is four, done at the end of May.
The victory was made even sweeter because they beat the Tigers' best pitchermaybe baseball's bestin Justin Verlander.
But that's really nothing new for the White Sox.
Verlander's record in three starts against the South Siders is 0-3 with a 9.88 ERA. In 19 starts against the rest of baseball, Verlander is 14-2 with a 2.20 ERA.
"He was kind of wild and we took advantage," Guillen said.
And Contreras was right on target.
"But most important of all," Contreras said, "was the victory for the team. The shutout was not as big a deal as a win against the Tigers in the first game of the series."
Contreras allowed only one baserunner through five innings, a second-inning walk to Carlos Guillen, who then stole second base. But Contreras struck out Dmitri Young and forced Craig Monroe to ground out.
The only two balls the Tigers hit out of the infield in the first five innings were Placido Polanco's third-inning flyout and Young's fifth-inning lineout to right.
By the sixth inning, Verlanderwho was skipped over his last turn because of a "tired" armwas gone and the Sox had a 5-0 lead, thanks to the big fifth.
The Sox scored first in the third inning, aided by Verlander's error. Scott Podsednik led off with a single and then scampered to third on an errant pickoff throw, scoring on Tadahito Iguchi's ground out.
But it was the big inning that gave Contreras some breathing room. With one out Iguchi singled and Thome powered his homer to center. After a Paul Konerko flyout, Jermaine Dye singled ahead of Pierzynski, who slugged his 10th homer to right field.
And the Sox won the first game in this "showdown series."
"Getting the first win," said Guillen, "will guarantee that we won't get swept."
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