White Sox defeat Orioles as pitching prowess continues

BaseballSportsChicago White SoxErnie BanksAdam JonesBaltimore OriolesOzzie Guillen

Jose Contreras took a firm stance Wednesday night after he was on the verge of losing his advantage.

Contreras thwarted a Baltimore threat in the fourth inning to start a renaissance that saw him retire the final 11 batters he faced with the return of a 93-m.p.h. fastball and tumbling split-finger fastball.

Contreras stabilized the White Sox in a 3-1 victory while extending the rotation's pitching success that started after he allowed four runs in a loss to Detroit on Friday.

Since then, Sox starters have limited opponents to three runs in 36 innings—capped by Contreras' sterling effort.

"I really prepared myself for this game," Contreras said. "You look at our bullpen, they've done a great job. The young kids are working hard. Our starters and defense are doing well. I have to step it up.

"All the work paid off, and I'll get ready for my next start (against the New York Yankees)."

Part of management's faith in the back end of the Sox's rotation was that an improved offense would give the starters run support that was sorely lacking last season.

Jim Thome gave Contreras the only runs he needed on a three-run homer in the first inning off left-hander Adam Loewen that snapped a 43 at-bat homerless drought.

Thome also moved to within one homer of catching Mel Ott (511) for 21st place on the all-time list, with Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews (512) directly ahead.

"Those are special names," said Thome, who needs one more walk to tie Willie Mays (1,464) for 18th place on the all-time list. "Those are guys who have done tremendous things in the game and sometimes you don't think about it till we talk about it, but it's special and very cool."

As much as Thome's homer gave the Sox an early lift, Contreras (1-1) gave his teammates more confidence as he didn't allow a walk for the first time since Aug. 17 in a 5-4 loss at Seattle.

"Awesome," manager Ozzie Guillen said of Contreras' control. "I always say Jose has to challenge people, be ahead in the count to make his [split-finger fastball] work. He has so much good stuff to put people away."

Contreras relied on his split-finger fastball to notch three of his four strikeouts during his span of retiring 11 consecutive batters.

But he passed his biggest test in the fourth after three consecutive singles and a throwing error by third baseman Joe Crede put the tying run at first with one out.

Contreras struck out Luke Scott and retired Adam Jones on a grounder to end the threat as the Orioles never got a runner past first base the rest of the game.

"That makes me more excited about him," Guillen said. "They could have tied the game easily and all of a sudden we go in a different direction. But he stepped it up with the strikeout and a couple of good hitters coming up.

"It was good for him to get in that situation and control it the way he did."

mgonzales@tribune.com

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