Contreras gave the struggling White Sox eight strong innings in a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, helping Chicago maintain a 3½-game lead in the AL Central heading into a critical series with second-place Cleveland.
"This kid, the last two weeks, every time we need it he goes out and does a tremendous job," manager Ozzie Guillen said, later declaring Contreras his best current starter in a rotation that includes Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle.
The White Sox scored four runs in this three-game series at the Metrodome and somehow won twice, raising their record in one-run games this year to 32-17. The Twins are 27-29 in one-run decisions.
"We know we have 11 guys on our staff that can go out and make outs," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "They continue to keep us in games, and we continue to score enough runs to find a way to win."
Second baseman Nick Punto misplayed Jermaine Dye's two-out grounder for an error in the eighth against Juan Rincon (6-6), allowing Chicago to take the lead and Contreras (13-7) to win his sixth consecutive start.
Damaso Marte recorded the first two outs in the ninth, and Bobby Jenks finished for his third save. After losing two of three at lowly Kansas City starting the week, the White Sox took home a little confidence into a three-game series with the Indians that begins Monday.
"We're going through a tough time right now," Dye said, "but a win is a win and we'll take it."
Chicago still has the league's best record (90-58) with 14 games remaining despite a 22-23 mark since Aug. 1. The White Sox finish the season with a three-game series at the Indians (87-62), who lead the New York Yankees by 1½ games in the wild-card race.
That's all Contreras needed. He gave up one run and five hits with two walks and improved to 9-2 since the All-Star break.
"I don't feel like I'm the best, but every time I go out there I'm going to do my best," the Cuban-born right-hander said through an interpreter.
The Twins helped him out with bad base running. Punto led off with a triple in the third and couldn't score. Hesitating when Jason Bartlett grounded to second, he broke too late for the plate and was easily thrown out by Konerko from first base.
Minnesota then camp up with three consecutive singles in the fourth, the last by Jacque Jones to drive in Jason Tyner. Lew Ford bunted, hopped over the ball in front of the plate and then stopped -- believing it was foul. Pierzynski picked it up to start an easy 2-5-4 double play, and Ford was benched an inning later.
"You don't run that ball out, you have to come out of the ballgame," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Minnesota, nearing elimination from postseason contention and an end to its streak of three consecutive division titles, plays a four-game series at Chicago next weekend.
Small consolation for a team that's still struggling mightily to generate any offense, but the chance to knock their biggest rival out of the lead gives the Twins some incentive.
"We're still out there battling and putting pressure on them," said Kyle Lohse, whose start lasted only five innings because of a sore ring finger. He threw 92 pitches, allowing one run on Aaron Rowand's two-out RBI single in the fourth after Konerko walked and Pierzynski was hit by a pitch.
Lohse has allowed two runs in 12 innings since the conflict that developed between him and Gardenhire following his removal from a rough outing against Texas on Sept. 6. Upset he was taken out so early from that game and by a subsequent comment from the manager, Lohse damaged the door to Gardenhire's office with a bat and hurt the finger during that tirade in the clubhouse.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me," Lohse said. "I definitely felt a little uncomfortable."
Pierzynski, a regular in Minnesota's lineup for three seasons through 2003, forgot for a moment which team he plays for after getting hit in the third. He flipped his bat toward the home dugout before realizing his mistake and advancing to first with a slight smirk. "Something that would only happen to me," Pierzynski said.