The man who did not have a Major League complete game until his next-to-last start of the season again went the route in his Game 5 clincher against the Angels.In that gem, Contreras threw 114 pitches. Three months earlier, he needed 116 to navigate 5 2/3 innings against the Red Sox; a month before that, 118 pitches only got him through six against Arizona. That's the Cooper influence translating into confidence to challenge, not skirt, hitters in the strike zone. "I just worked more on my mental and physical health," said Contreras, who still shudders when recalling the rumors that hounded him approaching the July 31 trading deadline. "The trade rumors were bothering me." Their sting was a little too real. Only the year before, the Yankees had sent him here in a pre-deadline deal for Esteban Loaiza, a move which angered Contreras "because I had a lot of friends in New York." He will be reunited with one of his Bronx buddies on Saturday, but across the great divide of a World Series duel. Roger Clemens, one of Contreras' earliest American mentors, will start Game 1 for Houston. "Me and Roger had a very good relationship," Contreras said. "He taught me a lot of things. He taught me a couple of pitches -- in Cuba, I was throwing a two-seam fastball, and he taught me how to throw a four-seam fastball. "We pitch mostly the same way, and just facing him is an honor. As good as he is, I wish I had him on my team, but too bad we have to face him." It may really be too bad if Contreras loses his ideal release point, or the feel for a particular pitch. He will have one fewer watchdog on his side. "Every time I did something wrong with my mechanics," Contreras recalled of the 2003 season he spent as Clemens' moundmate, "he helped me correct my errors."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.