Contreras sparkles in beating Angels

Contreras sparkles in beating Angels

ANAHEIM -- It was a little over one month ago when the Angels visited Chicago and dropped the White Sox 10 games behind the Tigers in the American League Central with a three-run victory during a makeup game from a May 11 rainout.

On Monday night in Anaheim, the White Sox survived a late Angels' rally and claimed a 3-2 victory over Mike Scioscia's crew before 39,316 at Angel Stadium. The White Sox (83-61) still trail the Twins by 1 1/2 games for the AL Wild Card lead, but as for that deficit in the Central ...

With Detroit being idle, the White Sox crept within three games of the division's top spot. It's the closest they have been since July 18, when a White Sox victory over Detroit moved them within 3 1/2 games.

The comeback from Ozzie Guillen's crew has featured the flash and pizzazz of the long ball, with the White Sox leading the Majors at 213 home runs. But for the White Sox to continue their climb to the postseason, they need to follow the formula producing Monday's one-run victory.

Great starting pitching from Jose Contreras plus timely hitting plus Bobby Jenks' 40th save, equals a chance for vast success over the season's final 18 games.

"We know we can't sit there and wait for [Jim] Thome and [Jermaine] Dye and Paulie [Konerko] to hit home runs to score some runs," Guillen said. "Don't wait for the big boys. We have to take advantage with clutch hitting."

"Our pitching has kept us in it," added catcher A.J. Pierzynski of the White Sox, who have won three of their past four overall and seven straight in Anaheim, including the American League Championship Series. "We haven't been swinging the bats as well as we think we can, but you still have to pitch. If we don't pitch, we aren't going to win games."

For the second straight start, Contreras (13-7) not only pitched, but he pitched brilliantly. The big right-hander allowed one run on six hits over eight innings, raising his strikeout total to 17 over the past two starts with eight against the Angels (77-67). Strong White Sox defense provided an assist, with Joe Crede and Konerko turning hard-hit line drives into rally-killing double plays in the sixth and seventh, respectively.

But Contreras set the tone, throwing all four of his pitches for strikes, with an emphasis on the changeup. The opposition has produced just two earned runs and 10 hits over his past 16 innings of work.

"Location was outstanding, and I had all my pitches going," said Contreras through translator and third-base coach Joey Cora.

"He had very, very good stuff and tonight he brought that stuff and matched it with his talents," Scioscia said of Contreras. "He was hitting his spots. When you have that much stuff and that kind of command, you can't get much to hit."

Contreras had to be on his game because John Lackey (11-10) basically matched him pitch-for-pitch. Pitch-for-pitch, that is, except for the fifth inning.

"Lackey had three bad batters, and that was it," said Pierzynski of Lackey, who struck out eight over eight innings.

Chicago picked up exactly four hits off Lackey, but three came during the three-run fifth. Lackey actually held the White Sox hitless until the fifth, when Konerko followed a leadoff walk to Thome with a single to right. Pierzynski double home a run, Crede picked up his 92nd RBI with a single through the drawn-in infield and Rob Mackowiak completed the White Sox scoring with a sacrifice fly to right.

This three-run lead was chipped away to two in the sixth on Chone Figgins' triple and Maicer Izturis' run-scoring single, and then a one-run edge in the ninth. Jenks actually started the ninth by giving up singles to Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson, marking the fifth and sixth straight hits off of Jenks in his past two games, before inducing Juan Rivera's double-play grounder and fanning Howie Kendrick.

Jenks became the third closer in White Sox history to reach 40 saves, joining Bobby Thigpen (57 in 1990) and Keith Foulke (42 in 2001).

"Probably the most amazing thing is he threw 10 straight strikes," said Pierzynski of Jenks. Jenks had failed to convert his previous two save opportunities. "Bobby's stuff definitely was there. Hopefully, he will regain his confidence and get back [to where he was]. Tonight was a good sign on all accounts."

Another victory for Minnesota (84-59), claiming a 9-4 win over Oakland at the Metrodome, was about the only negative sign emanating from Monday's effort. Otherwise, the White Sox are in the thick of a pennant race, chasing two teams, with the hope of catching at least one.

For that hope to become a reality, the answer seems to be simple on paper but a little harder to enact. Perform overall as the White Sox did on Monday night in Anaheim and don't let up on those quality starts.

"Last year, I thought we had a good team, but the pitching carried us," said Contreras, who is part of a starting staff that has allowed 13 earned runs over its past 53 innings (2.13 ERA). "If we make the playoff again this year, it will be because of the starters."

"We are getting closer, I think," added Pierzynski of the starters' recent efforts. "Look at the numbers, what the guys have done for four, five or six days in a row. It's nice to see. You've seen it this last week, where we've had chances because the pitchers kept us in it and gave us the opportunity to try to score some runs."

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