Homestand comes to disappointing end
Contreras gives up four runs after cruising early on in defeat
CHICAGO -- A quick glance at the White Sox 10-game homestand, completed Sunday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field, would leave it characterized as a modest success, with Chicago finishing 6-4 over this particular run.
When that homestand starts with a 5-2 record against the Yankees and Angels, the American League's two best team's by record, and finished with the aforementioned ledger because of a closing series against Cleveland ... Well, let's just say losing this weekend set to the Indians (48-63) makes this stretch at U.S. Cellular Field less than ideal.
"I love the way we start," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, after watching his team drop an 8-4 decision to the Indians in what was the team's most lackluster performance of the homestand. "That's how I can describe it."
Sunday's setback ended a streak of seven straight home series victories for the White Sox (57-55), dating back to June 8-11 against Detroit. And as Guillen said during his Sunday morning media chat, it has been his starting pitching, from one through five, which has set the tone in both a good and bad way over the past 10 games.
"We talk about fifth starters, but [John] Danks and [Mark] Buehrle, they were pitching like sixth starters," Guillen said. "Every game that was ugly, games that we lost in this homestand, it was because our starters didn't throw well. That's the bottom line. That's why I keep saying your pitching staff is going to dictate how you good you're going to play."
Guillen's words became a self-fulfilling prophecy before 34,063 enduring the sweltering 90-degree heat in the first truly uncomfortably hot day of the summer in Chicago. But if Danks and Buehrle's recent struggles leave them classified as sixth starters in Guillen's mind, then where does Jose Contreras fall?
The right-hander had a strange outing against Cleveland. He cruised through the first four innings, giving up nothing more than two harmless singles. Then, it all fell apart for Contreras (4-11) in the fifth.
Cleveland put the first four runners on base in the frame, via Jhonny Peralta's double, Luis Valbuena's single and a walk to Trevor Crowe. Andy Marte's slow roller to third turned into a run-scoring infield single and changed the complexion of the frame.
"That's baseball. That's the way the ball bounced," said Contreras of Marte's lucky bounce, through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "You can't really look at the luck involved."
Jamey Carroll's two-run double down the left-field line completed the four-run rally, erasing a 3-0 White Sox lead. When Asdrubal Cabrera drew a walk in the ensuing at-bat, Contreras' day was done.
He allowed four runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out two, meaning Contreras has given up 18 earned runs on 27 hits and 17 walks over his past 24 innings, covering five starts. Guillen hoped that the precipitous fall off could be attributed to the heat and humidity.
"Believe me, I hope it was that. Because if it was anything else, we're in trouble," said Guillen of Contreras, who has an 0-4 record and 6.75 ERA in his past five starts. "He was cruising real well, throwing the ball real good, attacking the strike zone. All of a sudden everything was bad. He got one ground ball with Marte, he just rolled the ball there. After that, everything went downhill."
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski pointed to Contreras falling behind in the count as a source of trouble in the fifth. Contreras seemed to be in agreement with his batterymate, explaining the problem through slightly different terminology.
"I wasn't tired at all. I just lost my rhythm," Contreras said. "I left some of my pitches up in the zone and they just started getting to them."
"We put up some good at-bats and made him work that final inning," said Cleveland manager Eric Wedge of Contreras. "It was a hot day out there, so I think that was probably somewhat of a factor. We did a good job against him in that inning, and he's been tough on us."
Tough, as in 5-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his past six games against the Indians. Meanwhile, Cleveland starter David Huff (6-6) improved to 2-0 lifetime against the White Sox, despite featuring an 8.04 ERA.
Huff entered Sunday's series finale with a dismal 6.81 ERA and gave up the 12th home run to both Pierzynski and Alexei Ramirez, who finished with three hits. Pierzynski, Mark Kotsay and Carlos Quentin knocked out two hits apiece, but it wasn't enough to prevent Chicago's third loss in four games.
This homestand began on the heels of a 1-6 White Sox road trip through Detroit and Minneapolis and with Chicago sitting three games behind Detroit in the American League Central. It comes to a rather uneventful ending with the White Sox still three games behind the Tigers and moving on to Seattle and Oakland, where they have a combined 17-49 record since 2001.
Despite trading seven players since June 27, Cleveland has taken consecutive series from Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. That mark doesn't make the White Sox finish in Chicago any easier to accept.
"Just a bad day overall," Pierzynski said. "We have to be better. We came out and got a 3-0 lead and had a chance to add on some but we didn't do it."
"We've got to play good within our division," said reliever Scott Linebrink, who gave up three runs over 1 1/3 innings. "We played a couple of good teams well, but we have to continue that against the division, especially if we're going to come out on top in this thing."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.