Contreras crowns Royals

Contreras crowns Royals

CHICAGO -- A familiar mantra put forth by players who make up the 2005 White Sox offense is that they don't score any more runs than absolutely needed on a given night.

For eight innings Wednesday against the Royals, it looked as if one run would be enough to pick up the South Siders' seventh straight victory to start September and earn Jose Contreras his fourth victory in four starts. After the completion of nine innings, that single tally did hold up during a 1-0 victory before 18,513 at U.S. Cellular Field.

It wasn't without the requisite roller-coaster ups and downs that seemingly have become a trademark of the team with the best record in the American League. Hard-throwing Bobby Jenks retired Justin Huber on a ground ball to Juan Uribe to innocently open the ninth, but when left-handed-hitting Matt Stairs was summoned to pinch-hit, manager Ozzie Guillen strolled to the mound and called for left-hander Damaso Marte.

Marte proceeded to hit Stairs with a pitch, and then, on an 0-1 offering, hit left-handed-hitting Aaron Guiel, putting the winning run on first base. Guillen made his second ninth-inning trip from the dugout, summoning closer Dustin Hermanson, who recorded save No. 34 after Matt Diaz flew out deep to right and Mike Sweeney popped up a 3-2 pitch to second baseman Willie Harris.

Guillen's move to replace Jenks, who has become a fan favorite with his 100-mph fastballs, was greeted by a noisy chorus of boos. Guillen quipped that he wasn't sure if the derision was directed at him or Marte. The animated White Sox manager even waved off a few fans as he walked back to the dugout following the initial pitching switch.

The ninth inning was nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who has watched Guillen manage. He has played the percentages all season, and Guillen wasn't about to change -- even against the hapless Royals (44-93). And par for his demonstrative personality, Guillen wasn't about to apologize afterward.

"If people think I'm here to please the fans or the media, they are wrong," a slightly defensive Guillen said, defending his use of Marte. "I'm going to come here and I'm going to push the best buttons to win the game. We have been doing this all year long.

"It's easy managing when you are far away from the plate, but I have enough guts to respond to all you guys about what I did. I keep my head up, and my bullpen did a tremendous job. I have a lot of belief in my bullpen."

The ninth-inning situation would have played out differently, according to Guillen, if Jenks officially was the understudy at closer to Hermanson. But Guillen said that Jenks has never been anointed in that role.

Regardless of the drama, the White Sox simply viewed Wednesday as another game off the schedule, and watched their magic number to clinch the American League Central fall to 15. They moved a season-high 36 games over .500 and tied a season high with their eighth straight victory at home. The White Sox also improved to 40-13 within their division and 12-2 against the Royals.

Contreras raised his record to 11-7, making another bid for a spot in the postseason rotation. This win was a bit more impressive than his last three, considering the right-hander basically worked without an effective split-finger or changeup.

Despite the Royals putting three runners on base in the first and fourth innings, and two apiece in the third and fifth, Contreras held the Royals scoreless over 7 2/3 innings. His ERA dropped to 2.12 over his last four starts, and Contreras improved to 7-2 with a 3.34 ERA since the All-Star break.

"My fastball was dominant all game," said Contreras through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr. "I'm glad I could locate the fastball. That's why I had success."

"Tonight, he didn't have his best stuff. It was more of a battle," added catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Contreras. "You saw the difference in the old Jose and the new Jose. We want him to believe he can get out of innings and keep the damage down."

The White Sox stranded nine runners of their own, including a runner on third with less than two outs in two separate innings. But Paul Konerko's 36th home run, coming with two outs in the third off Mike Wood (4-6), was enough for a victory on this occasion.

Konerko's 402-foot blast marked the fourth straight game in which he has gone deep. It's the first time Konerko has accomplished that feat during his career, but the second time for a White Sox player this season. Pierzynski homered in four straight games, from May 15-18.

Even with the nerve-wracking ninth, Konerko's blast and Contreras' performance fit right into the White Sox formula for success laid out during the 2005 campaign. Start with stellar starting pitching, mix in a bullpen to close the door and throw in just enough offense to get the job done in a narrowly-decided contest.

And don't forget a feisty manager, who refuses to doubt his on-field convictions -- regardless of popular opinion.

"Why stop now?" asked Konerko in regard to altering the winning formula, which has left the White Sox 30-15 during one-run games. "You don't think it is going to be a one-run game every night, but whether it's us coming from behind or whatever, it comes down to the end every time."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.