Contreras three-hits Tigers in opener
Thome, Pierzynski homer as White Sox cut into deficit
CHICAGO -- On a night when many of the 39,378 in attendance at U.S. Cellular Field paid homage to Elvis Presley, Jose Contreras emerged as Friday's king for the White Sox during their 5-0 shellacking of Detroit.
The big right-hander hurled his first Major League shutout against a lineup for the best team in the Majors that really didn't have a chance during this particular contest. Contreras had his slider, fastball and devastating split-finger all working in the series opener of this crucial three-game set, holding the Tigers hitless until Curtis Granderson's two-out double in the sixth.
Contreras struck out five and walked just one, throwing a mere 101 pitches to finish off the three-hitter. And it was a momentous victory for far greater reasons than simply Contreras' first complete-game zip job in the United States.
Ozzie Guillen's bullpen got the night off, after being thoroughly taxed during the first four games of this 11-game homestand against the Angels and Yankees. Contreras also set the perfect tone for the White Sox (68-46) in their chase of the Tigers (76-39), with the lead in the American League Central shrinking 2 1/2 games since Monday, and the South Siders sitting 7 1/2 games back with two more head-to-head games this weekend.
Strong appreciation for Contreras' effort came from Guillen and players among the White Sox offense, who were given a chance to attack Detroit's rookie sensation Justin Verlander (14-5) through Contreras' crisp mound effort. Even the vanquished opponents from this evening tipped their collective caps to the White Sox ace.
"He was real good, there's no question about that," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm sure they've seen him better, but I thought he was about as good as I've seen him."
"If you don't take advantage of some of the pitches [Contreras] throws over the plate, you're not going to beat him," added Detroit third baseman Brandon Inge. "We didn't do that tonight. He wasn't missing any spots, bottom line. He threw every pitch right where you couldn't really do much with it."
Most of the American League hasn't been able to do much with Verlander, who carried a seven-game winning streak and 2.04 ERA over that stretch into Friday's start. But the White Sox clearly have the rookie's number, knocking out 13 hits in five innings against Verlander, who was making his first start in 10 days.
Verlander now has a 0-3 record with an 8.10 ERA against the White Sox, giving up 27 hits over 13 2/3 innings. He is 14-2 with a 2.20 ERA when facing the rest of baseball, yielding 105 hits in 126 2/3 innings. The key on Friday was patience, driving Verlander's pitch count to 98 when he exited.
"That's not him," said Guillen of Verlander's high pitch count. "We've been patient with him. This kid is aggressive. He's a power pitcher, but he was kind of wild today and we took advantage of it."
A.J. Pierzynski took the drubbing of Verlander one step further for his team.
"He's probably the Rookie of the Year in the American League, with the way he's pitched and the quality starts and outings he's getting himself," the White Sox catcher said. "To go out and beat him is huge. It sends a statement for this series that we're here and we're not going anywhere."
Scott Podsednik, who was one of six White Sox starters with at least two hits, scored his team's first run in the third after leading off with a single and moving to third on Verlander's wild pickoff throw. But the White Sox gave Contreras a little room to work in the fifth, scoring four times via the long ball.
Jim Thome connected on a two-run shot, raising his total to 35 for the season, and establishing a club record for single-season home runs by a left-handed hitter. Robin Ventura previously held the mark at 34 in 1996. Pierzynski followed with a two-run blast three batters later, also scoring Jermaine Dye for a 5-0 advantage.
"Our approach was pretty good," Thome said. "We were fortunate he left some balls in the zone and we capitalized. You want to eliminate him getting into a groove and getting rolling, because he has very good stuff."
In reality, the one unearned run scored by Podsednik would have been enough for Contreras on this special night. He improved to 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA over four outings against the Tigers this season and has now won four of his last five starts against Detroit.
When Contreras (11-4) was asked for a rough total of shutouts he threw during his storied career in Cuba, he smiled and answered through translator Ozzie Guillen Jr., "I had a lot in Cuba."It would be hard to find a more important regular-season game pitched by Contreras, though, since he came to the White Sox.
"It was a huge game," Contreras said. "I was going up against the best team in the league and their best pitcher, who is right now one of the best pitchers in the game. I've prepared myself mentally and physically the last five days for the battle.
"I was keeping my pitches low and my legs were really, really strong. I knew if I could hit my spots, I would have a good night."
Make that, the White Sox would have a good night, as they moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Minnesota in the AL Wild Card race, and stayed two up on Boston. But their focus remains on Detroit and the Central title.
Even though Contreras, Friday's king, has left the building for this series, the White Sox are hoping Mark Buehrle and Freddy Garcia fall in line on Saturday and Sunday.
"We did it before," said Guillen of the domino effect with his starters. "We got Contreras out there to throw a tremendous game and everyone started throwing better and followed in step."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.