Jose Contreras is winning and learning.
While extending his winning streak to four games Wednesday night, Contreras showed he could pitch out of jams and work with minimal run support.
Despite walking five batters, Contreras' timely pitching paid off as the White Sox extended their winning streak to seven games with a 1-0 victory over Kansas City.
But for the second consecutive night, the Sox's bullpen steered into trouble and nearly deprived Contreras of a victory.
Manager Ozzie Guillen was booed after lifting Bobby Jenks with one out and no one on in the ninth, and he waved his hand in disgust as he returned to the dugout. Left-hander Damaso Marte then hit two left-handed batters and was roasted by fans as Guillen summoned closer Dustin Hermanson.
Hermanson retired Matthew Diaz on a fly to right and Mike Sweeney on a pop to second to earn his 34th save.
The save also earned Hermanson an additional $75,000 for finishing his 40th game, but Guillen felt the need to explain his motives.
"If people think I'm going to please the fans, the media, whoever they're wrong," Guillen said. " It's amazing how many people know about baseball."
Guillen said he feared left-handed batter Matt Stairs and pulled Jenks in favor of Marte, who hit Stairs and Aaron Guiel.
"It's easy managing when you are far away from the plate," said Guillen, who has steered the Sox (87-51) to a 9½-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central with 24 games left. The Sox have won all eight home games against Kansas City (44-93) and are 12-2 against the Royals this season.
Contreras began the Sox's winning streak with a victory over Detroit last Thursday and he has strengthened his case for a start in the playoffs if the Sox clinch the Central.
Contreras (11-7) blanked the Royals for 72/3 innings despite the five walks. Yet, Contreras lasted 104 pitches because of his knack for getting out of trouble. He stranded runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings and overcame two mistakes.
In the fourth, Contreras skipped a pickoff throw into center field for an error that moved runners to second and third with two outs, prompting the Sox to walk Guiel intentionally.
But Contreras came back to strike out Andres Blanco on three pitches to end the threat. Contreras settled down and retired 11 consecutive batters before walking Mark Teahen with two outs in the eighth.
"My confidence is so high that I'll walk somebody to get to somebody else," said Contreras, who didn't walk a batter in his three previous starts.
Contreras also showed confidence in his fastball, something he didn't do in New York that prompted the Yankees to trade him in July 2004.
"This is the best I've felt in three years," Contreras said. "Best of all, I'm helping my team."
Contreras' escape acts were welcome because the Sox offense went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and missed chances to open a big lead early as they did in Tuesday's 6-5 victory.
The Sox's run came in the third on Paul Konerko's 36th home run off Royals starter Mike Wood, who never retired the side in order but limited the Sox to one run over 61/3 innings.
Konerko's homer was his fourth in as many games, joining A.J. Pierzynski as Sox who have accomplished that feat this season. Konerko's homer extended his hitting streak to 12 games, and he's batting .409 during that stretch.