White Sox outmatched from the start

White Sox outmatched from the start

CHICAGO -- Following Cleveland's 12-5 shellacking of the White Sox before an Opening Day sellout of 38,088 on Monday at U.S. Cellular Field, the first postgame question asked of catcher A.J. Pierzynski was whether Jose Contreras' horrific start stemmed from location issues.

"You can start with that," said Pierzynski with an uneasy smile.

Simply put, anything that could go wrong did for Contreras during the first Opening Day trip to the mound of his career. All the excitement and frenzy built up around what figures to be a promising 2007 season for the White Sox was put to a sudden halt on the second pitch of the game, when Grady Sizemore became the first Indians player to hit a leadoff home run on Opening Day since Julio Franco did so off Charlie Hough in Texas on April 8, 1984.

Before a tourniquet had been applied to the first inning hemorrhaging, six of the first eight Cleveland hitters had reached base safely and five runs had scored. By the time Ozzie Guillen walked slowly to the mound to remove Contreras with nobody out in the second, the big right-hander had yielded seven earned runs on seven hits and put the White Sox in a hole they would not escape against Cleveland ace C.C. Sabathia.

"When you are down 9-2 after two innings, it's tough against C.C.," said Pierzynski, who finished hitless in three trips and struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth as the last hitter Sabathia faced. "He's as good as it gets. He got better as the game went on."

"Jose just didn't have it," added Guillen of Contreras, who was regularly behind hitters in the first, throwing just 28 of his 49 pitches for strikes. "He was all over the place from the beginning. Every pitch he tried to make landed in the middle of the plate. I went out and talked to him, and he said he felt fine. He said he couldn't throw the pitches where he wanted."

Down, 5-0, in the bottom of the first, Pablo Ozuna doubled to left for his 10th hit in 24 career at-bats against Sabathia. Darin Erstad, making his White Sox debut, became the sixth player in franchise history to homer in his first at-bat with the team, driving out a 1-2 pitch down the right-field line.

The White Sox actually appeared to take good hacks for six innings against Sabathia, knocking out eight hits. It's information they can process for future battles, gaining ever-so-slightly on a pitcher holding a 13-3 career record against the South Siders and a 7-0 mark with a 2.70 ERA over 10 career starts at U.S. Cellular.

"I love the way we swung the bat against him," said Guillen. "We always have trouble to put pretty good wood to this kid. Maybe because the lead was so big he just wanted to go through his outing, pitch a game, win the game."

"Our first inning was good," Pierzynski added. "I thought that was awesome the way we went out and gave up five and came back and got two. We had some chances early. If we would have stayed in the game and held it close, we think we could have got back into it."

Contreras' abbreviated outing, the shortest for a White Sox Opening Day starter since Claude "Lefty" Williams also went one inning against St. Louis in 1917, allowed Guillen and the White Sox fan base to get a look at almost the entire roster. Nick Masset allowed three runs over three innings of relief. Andrew Sisco threw two scoreless innings and David Aardsma gave up one run during his two-inning stint.

Reserves Rob Mackowiak, Alex Cintron and Brian Anderson all had at-bats before the game came to a merciful close. Even rookie catcher Gustavo Molina had a chance to play a couple of innings, just missing a home run in his first career at-bat in the ninth and settling for a sacrifice fly.

"It was awesome," said Molina of his debut. "That's one of the best days of my life."

opening day 2007

"There was a lot of anxiety -- Opening Day, 40,000 fans," Masset added. "I don't know how to explain it. The nerves were going. That's the way it went."

Nerves were not a problem for Contreras and neither was anything physical. He simply had a miserable outing, far worse even than his 4-9 record and 5.40 ERA posted in the second half of the 2006 season.

But it was a short effort that didn't draw panic or even much cause for concern.

"Thank God I feel healthy and there's 32 more starts," said Contreras through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr. "I can still go out and have a great season."

"Falling behind hitters. Location. He couldn't get his split over the plate," added Pierzynski, expounding on Contreras' problems. "They didn't swing at any and it just kind of spiraled from there. But he's going to be fine. It was just a bad day."

Pierzynski and his teammates viewed the team's Opening Day loss in the same manner, poking fun at writing off the season after one very rough showing.

"You just hate that it comes on Opening Day, when everyone has high hopes," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko, who hit his first home run with two outs in the third. "But we won the last Opening Day and what did that do for us?"

"If you get off to a great start, everyone is on cloud nine. If it doesn't happen, everyone wants to make less of it," Pierzynski added. "I saw the Cubs lost, too, so I guess their season is over. Get ready for Bears football."

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