Both teams know they will only get as far as their pitching takes them. And if Jose Contreras keeps throwing the ball as well as he did against the Angels in a 3-2 victory Monday night, the defending World Series champions might just make the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
Contreras allowed one run and six hits over eight innings and A.J. Pierzynski doubled home the go-ahead run, helping the White Sox remain 1½ games behind Minnesota in the wild-card race. They also pulled within three games of first-place Detroit in the AL Central.
"The pitching has kept us in it," Pierzynski said. "If you look at the numbers and what the guys have done, it's nice to see. That's what we need. We need strong, solid starting pitching to give us a chance. We haven't been swinging the bats as well as we think we can -- myself included. But you still have to pitch. And that's what this team is built on -- pitching and defense."
Contreras (13-7) struck out eight in his duel with John Lackey and won consecutive starts for the first time since June 12. The All-Star right-hander, who beat the Angels with a complete game in the ALCS clincher last year, was 9-0 in his first 15 starts this season and went 2-7 over his next 11 outings before beating Boston 8-1 last Wednesday.
"You hope that it's a confidence builder for him and that it gets him on track," Pierzynski said. "He's got three or four more starts to go, and we need all those starts to be as good as tonight was. And if they are, then we've got a chance."
The White Sox have won their last seven games at Angel Stadium, a streak that began with complete-game victories by Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and Contreras in the playoffs. They also swept a three-game set in late April, with Contreras pitching 8 1/3 innings in a 2-1 win over Kelvim Escobar.
Contreras took a two-hitter and a 3-0 lead into the sixth before Chone Figgins tripled with two outs and scored one pitch later on a single by Maicer Izturis. Bobby Jenks got three outs for his 40th save in 44 chances after blowing his previous two attempts.
Jenks gave up consecutive singles to Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson to start the ninth, putting runners at the corners. But the right-hander got Juan Rivera to ground into a run-scoring double play and struck out Howie Kendrick to end it.
Lackey (11-10) retired his first 10 batters before walking Tadahito Iguchi on four pitches. Jermaine Dye followed with a liner toward Lackey's head, which resulted in one of the most improbable double plays of the season.
Lackey ducked to get out of the way and got just enough of his glove on the ball to keep it in the air. The ball sailed behind second base, where Adam Kennedy made a diving, backhand grab and tossed to first to double up Iguchi.
"It was a heck of a play by both guys," Chicago's Rob Mackowiak said. "It's kind of the way our luck has been going. We've hit the ball really well over the past week and really haven't had a lot to show for it."
Kennedy also bailed out Lackey in the third, taking a hit away from Mackowiak by backhanding his sinking liner at the last instant and throwing him out. But Lackey's luck ran out in the fifth, as the first four Chicago batters reached base during a three-run rally.
"I know he didn't want to let me get a hit off of him on 0-2," Pierzynski said. "I'm sure he tried to bounce the curveball, but he just threw it high enough where I could reach it. John doesn't throw anything straight and doesn't seem to hit the middle of the plate, so you have to battle against him. He always seems to pitch well against us. But luckily, we had Jose going and he matched him pitch for pitch."
Konerko scored on Joe Crede's single, and Mackowiak followed with a sacrifice fly.
Lackey allowed three runs and four hits in eight innings, striking out eight and walking two. Los Angeles stayed 5½ games back of AL West-leading Oakland, which lost 9-4 at Minnesota.
"I had pretty good stuff. That was about as good as I've had all year," said Lackey, who fanned five in a row between the seventh and eighth. "If I get that pitch to Pierzynski down about two inches, I'm all right. Then I left a fastball up to Konerko, and that's about it."
- The Angels observed the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks with a pregame ceremony that included a moment of silence and a video celebrating America.
- Angels RHP Brendan Donnelly dropped his appeal of a four-game suspension for hitting Texas' Freddy Guzman with a pitch on Aug. 16 and began serving the penalty.