The former Cuban star, who's been by far Chicago's best pitcher since the All-Star break, allowed six hits in his first career complete game Friday night, lifting the White Sox to a crucial 3-1 win over the Minnesota Twins.
"Two months ago everybody wanted to kill this kid and get him out of town because he was pitching horrible," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Jose had always had the best arm on my team. It's a matter of time when he can use that. It's a matter of confidence. This kid won a big game for us and he showed the guys when you have confidence and throw strikes and attack the strike zone, you can
win a lot of games."
Chicago, which won for the fifth time in 15 games, maintained its narrow 1½-game lead in the AL Central over second-place Cleveland, which beat Kansas City 7-6 on Friday night.
The White Sox have been in first place every day of the season and led by 15 games on Aug. 1.
"This is the beginning of every important game left in the year," Contreras said through an interpreter. "I knew that. We can't lose from this point on. Luckily I got three runs and I could pitch more comfortably."
Those runs came in the first when Jermaine Dye hit a three-run homer off Kyle Lohse. Dye had flied out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Thursday night when the White Sox lost 4-1 to the Twins in 11 innings.
"I've been around this game for so long and been in stretch runs like this and playoff runs. This game comes at you day in and day," Dye said. "Last night I couldn't get it done, but tonight I'm a hero."
Contreras (14-7) matched a season high with nine strikeouts and walked one to win his seventh straight start since an Aug. 15 loss to Minnesota. He improved to 10-2 since the All-Star break. His 14 victories are a career high.
"It's one of the best games I've pitched in my whole career as a baseball player and the best I've pitched in the U.S.," said the veteran of international competition with the Cuban national team.
In the second half of the season, Contreras has changed his arm angle and found his control, cutting down his walks and limiting his pitch count.
"He was a little out of whack before, but he's not out of whack anymore," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "This guy is making a case for himself. You get down toward the playoffs, you start looking at who can do it and who can't. It looks like he can do some things."
Minnesota had a runner at third in the ninth. And with Jacque Jones -- who has 18 career homers against the White Sox, including three this season -- coming up, Guillen visited the mound to a loud chorus of boos.
He just told Contreras to keep the ball low and not give Jones a fastball he could hit for a home run. Contreras followed instructions, striking him out to end the game.
The White Sox play the Twins two more times and then finish with seven on the road, including a three-game finale in Cleveland.
Asked if Contreras would be the starter for an opener if the White Sox do make the playoffs, Guillen wasn't committing.
"If we make the playoffs and if the time is good for him and if he is the best guy to throw the ball, he will be the first pitcher," Guillen said. "If not, we will see what happens."
Lohse (9-13) allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings.
Minnesota cut the lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Mauer singled and, after two strikeouts, stole second before scoring on Michael Ryan's RBI single.
Guillen is leaning toward giving rookie Brandon McCarthy at least one more start in place of veteran Orlando Hernandez. McCarthy allowed one run and four hits in eight innings Thursday night against AL Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. McCarthy had made three strong starts since his third recall from the minors. If he stays in the rotation, McCarthy could be in line to start the season finale in Cleveland on Oct. 2. ... Contreras won 13 games last season, eight for the Yankees and five for the White Sox after being traded from New York for Esteban Loaiza.