KANSAS CITY -- Judging by the first two innings of the White Sox 8-4 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium on Monday night, the series opener had the feel and look of a four-hour, error-filled contest. It wasn't exactly 45 minutes for the baseball annals.
But as White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has made clear throughout the 2006 season, when talking about his team's overall fortunes, it's not how you start, but how you finish that truly counts.
Forget about Jose Contreras hitting Esteban German with the bases loaded in the first inning. Disregard Juan Uribe's two-out error on David DeJesus' ground ball in the second, leading to an unearned run and 12-15 extra pitches for Contreras.
By the end of the third inning, the White Sox (62-42) had complete control of their third win in four games on this nine-game road trip. The Royals (37-68), who had a decidedly different look than they did during the White Sox initial April road series of 2006 because of injuries and two handfuls of trades, didn't exactly set the world on fire in the opening frames either.
Runelvys Hernandez (2-6) allowed eight runs on eight hits over three innings, walking two and yielding three home runs, in one of the least-desirable pitching lines imaginable. The right-hander committed two balks in the opening frame, including one called by second-base umpire Marty Foster that erased a called third strike against Jermaine Dye and allowed Alex Cintron to score from third.
"Yeah, I've seen it happen before," said Dye of the run-scoring balk. "It was kind of weird, but we will take it."
"I didn't know what he was doing or what was happening," added Cintron on Hernandez's lapses in concentration. "It helped us to win a big ballgame."
Cintron and Dye did their share offensively to help the White Sox improve to 7-3 during head-to-head contests with Kansas City (37-68). Cintron blasted his third home run in the second inning, a two-run shot that traveled 425 feet to right-center. Dye followed in the third with home run No. 29, a prodigious clout carrying 435 feet into the left-center-field fountains.
Dye has three home runs during the four-game road trip, after stating Friday that home runs have always come in bunches for this pure hitter with power. But the White Sox right fielder didn't seem overly impressed with the distance of his drive.
"As long as it goes over the fence, by a foot or 10 feet, we will take it," said Dye, who ranks second on the team in home runs and RBIs (77).
This 12-hit assault also included Joe Crede's 22nd home run in the third, equaling his single-season high, set in 2005. The trio of long balls was more than enough for Contreras (10-3), who snapped a personal three-game losing streak, and became the first White Sox starter other than Jon Garland to win a game since Javier Vazquez on July 6 against Baltimore.
Despite loading the bases in each of the first two innings, Contreras limited the Royals to just three runs and cruised through seven. Contreras also threw a season-high 122 pitches in Kansas City's near-100 degree heat, but finished with a flurry.
Mark Teahen opened the seventh with a triple to right, but Contreras stranded him there with two strikeouts and a popout to first baseman Ross Gload. The big right-hander fanned three and walked two, saving the depleted bullpen, with Brandon McCarthy throwing two perfect innings to close out the victory.
Contreras was aware of the bullpen's heavy usage over the weekend in Baltimore. But he said it didn't figure into his mound mindset.
"That doesn't factor into the equation, even though I realized coming in what was going on with the bullpen," said Contreras, through translator and third-base coach Joey Cora. "I have to pitch my game and see what happens."
"With the way the game went along, we didn't want to get this thing crazy," added Guillen of the rough opening innings. "But I only wanted to use McCarthy and [Mike] McDougal and that's it. We were waiting for someone to come out and help the bullpen. Jose struggled early in the game and settled down and started throwing well."
A turning point for Contreras and the White Sox came in the first, after Contreras forced in a run by hitting German, and still had the bases loaded, one out and Joey Gathright coming to the plate. Guillen went to the mound and asked Contreras if he felt all right, and when Contreras responded that he felt fine, Guillen answered with his trademark direct but colorful sense of humor.
"I said, 'Don't feel fine, because you aren't doing nothing. Feel worse and start pitching better,'" said Guillen with a smile of his message to Contreras. "Attack the strike zone."
Contreras induced Gathright's inning-ending double play, en route to improving to 7-0 lifetime against the Royals, with a 2.16 ERA. The victory drew the White Sox even with the idle Yankees for the American League Wild Card lead, while Minnesota (61-43) sits just one game behind the two.
Detroit's loss in Tampa also allowed the White Sox to move to within 7 1/2 games of the American League Central lead. The South Siders have a chance to gain more ground with two remaining contests against the Royals, but they take nothing for granted after Monday's start.
"KC plays us well all the time," Dye said. "No matter how you are playing, you want to get that first game and try to win a series. Don't worry about trying to sweep. Just try to win series."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.