Contreras wins 16th straight decision
Podsednik's grand slam paces pitcher's record-breaking victory
CHICAGO -- Jose Contreras was asked following the White Sox 7-4 victory over Houston Friday night at U.S. Cellular Field if he can remember the last time he lost a regular-season contest. Ozzie Guillen Jr., Contreras' translator, relayed the question to him in Spanish, Contreras smiled and quickly responded.
"No, he doesn't remember," said Ozzie Guillen Jr., with both the translator and the highly successful pitcher letting loose with a laugh.
As a public service to Contreras (8-0), his last setback on the mound officially came on Aug. 15, 2005. Minnesota got to Contreras for four runs on eight hits over 6 2/3 innings, dropping his record to 7-7 at the time.
Since that defeat, Contreras has posted a 16-0 record and 2.72 earned run average over his last 20 regular-season starts. When factoring in the postseason, Contreras holds a 19-1 record and 2.79 ERA in his last 25 starts overall.
Strangely enough, Friday's victorious effort over Houston (37-37) probably was the most important for Contreras in that his 16th straight broke the franchise record for consecutive regular-season winning decisions. But it also was one of his least-effective performances during this absolutely amazing run.
That's least-effective, of course, in Contreras' world -- four runs allowed on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. It was a pitching line much like his last loss, but his fortunes certainly have changed in the interim.
"First, I have to say the record is not mine. It's the team's record," said Contreras, who helped the White Sox improve to 28-10 at home. "I pitched really bad [Friday]. But this win shows me I'm learning how to pitch without being at 100 percent. My fastball wasn't there today. I couldn't throw my slider for a strike. My splitty was not falling."
"It's incredible," added White Sox left fielder Scott Podsednik of Contreras' streak. "This guy is one of the top pitchers in baseball right now. He battles. He's flat-out fun to watch."
Podsednik always will remember Contreras' record-breaking victory, and not necessarily because of the pitcher himself or the fact that the series opener marked a rematch of last year's World Series. Instead, this game holds special significance for the left-handed leadoff man because he was the main offensive contributor to the White Sox eighth straight victory, equaling a season-high winning streak, and the team's 12th win in its last 14 games.
No, Podsednik didn't knock out three singles and steal four bases, which is usually how he produces for the White Sox (48-25). Instead, Podsednik launched a full-count offering from Andy Pettitte (6-8) in the fourth inning for his first career grand slam, giving the White Sox an insurmountable 6-0 lead.
The home run to right came at a perfect time for the White Sox, who had stranded Podsednik on third in the third inning after a leadoff triple and had struggled to score a run in the fourth after Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede reached base to open the frame. Podsednik, who entered the game hitting .177 with three RBIs against left-handed pitchers, took care of the run-scoring problem with one swing of the bat.
As soon as Podsednik's 412-foot drive cleared the wall, it was Contreras who claimed to be the most excited in regard to the big hit.
"He's known for slapping the ball, his bunts and his speed," Contreras said. "I was very surprised when he hit the home run and very happy."
"I don't know. I was pretty excited," added Podsednik, who was simply trying to shoot the ball through the infield and bring home at least one run. "I don't hit those very often, especially with guys on base."
When Podsednik has hit home runs as a member of the White Sox, they seem to come against Houston and they seem to hold great importance. He has four long balls since joining the South Siders, with the grand slam ranking well behind his walk-off home run off Houston closer Brad Lidge in Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.
"That's just one of those strange occurrences," Podsednik said of his success against Houston. "For some reason, I fare pretty well against these guys. I hope it continues. I really have no explanation for you, to be honest."
"We've got to find a way to get this guy out," Houston manager Phil Garner added. "He's killed us. He hits a home run either every leap year or every time he faces the Astros, whichever comes first."
Contreras also received help from Joe Crede, who had two hits and an RBI, as well as relievers Neal Cotts, David Riske and Bobby Jenks. Just as he flawlessly closed out the World Series sweep in October, Jenks cruised through the ninth inning on Friday for his 22nd save in 23 opportunities.
Jenks would have a tough time remembering his last blown save, as he has converted 12 straight. As Contreras pointed out through Ozzie Guillen Jr., it's hard to remember your last lowlight, of sorts, when it happened almost one year ago.
But where Podsednik and grand slams are concerned, there's really nothing to forget.
"I don't know if I have a career grand slam to be honest," said Podsednik, talking about hitting a grand slam at any level of play. "This came on a good night, and with guys on base, it came at a good time."
"We need those four runs. It lifted the ballclub," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "I'm excited for Jose. This kid earned it. He's come a long way to do this. Hopefully, that streak continues, and hopefully we still play good for him."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.