Contreras survives walk on wild side

Tribune staff reporter

Jose Contreras' development has advanced to the point where he can work out of self-inflicted jams despite not feeling 100 percent.

The latest chapter in Contreras' 13-game winning streak came Thursday in the sixth inning of the White Sox's 4-1 victory over Seattle.

After coasting behind a four-run lead, Contreras suddenly suffered a bout of wildness resembling the control problems that had plagued him through the first half of 2005 and had caused the New York Yankees to run out of patience after a season and a half.

Contreras walked Raul Ibanez on a 3-2 split-finger fastball with two out and nobody on base. A single by Carl Everett and two more walks caused some anxiety at U.S. Cellular Field, but Contreras regained command of his 94-m.p.h. fastball to retire Matt Lawton on a fly to right.

"Jose is on a roll," manager Ozzie Guillen said with a smile. "When he started walking people, I said, 'Uh-oh. Not 2004.'"

That sixth inning took 42 pitches, but Guillen had enough faith in Contreras to send him out for the seventh.

Contreras needed only nine pitches to retire the next four batters and was rewarded with a standing ovation when he left with one out in the eighth.

"You know what?" Guillen said. "He was our best guy there."

Guillen's reasoning was backed by Contreras not walking a batter through 52/3 innings, throwing only 59 pitches through the first five innings and limiting the Mariners to three hits until the sixth.

Seattle's roster had a combined .167 batting average against Contreras, so the only man appearing capable of beating Contreras was himself. That wasn't going to happen despite nasal congestion that had nagged him since Tuesday.

"I hope to be sick in every start if I'm going to pitch like that," Contreras said through interpreter Ozzie Guillen Jr.

Contreras' winning streak is the longest active streak in the majors and the fourth longest in Sox history since 1970.

"The way he's pitching, they're not going to hit it too often," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I think he's starting to pitch to the game situation."

During the winning streak covering 14 regular-season starts dating to Aug. 21, Contreras has a 1.80 ERA. He also held Ichiro Suzuki to an 0-for-4 game.

"Finally, we got this kid out," Guillen said. "I think that's the key for that team. You keep Ichiro off the basepaths, and you have a better chance to win the game."

After batting .400 in his previous 13 games, Suzuki went 0-for-9 in the two-game series against the Sox.

The Mariners also were stymied by exceptional defense in the late innings. Sox third baseman Joe Crede slid against the tarp along the left-field foul line and managed a juggling catch to retire Ibanez in the eighth.

Rob Mackowiak, who has received playing time because of Brian Anderson's struggles and Jermaine Dye's strained left calf, caught Willie Bloomquist's fly before falling over the railing down the right-field line.

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