<
>

Contreras beats Angels, keeps ChiSox close in races

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- The Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles
Angels are finding it much more difficult to reach the postseason
than last year, when they played each other for the AL pennant.

Both teams know they will only get as far as their pitching
takes them. And if Jose Contreras keeps throwing the ball as well
as he did against the Angels in a 3-2 victory Monday night, the
defending World Series champions might just make the playoffs in
consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.

Contreras allowed one run and six hits over eight innings and
A.J. Pierzynski doubled home the go-ahead run, helping the White
Sox remain 1½ games behind Minnesota in the wild-card race. They
also pulled within three games of first-place Detroit in the AL
Central.

"The pitching has kept us in it," Pierzynski said. "If you
look at the numbers and what the guys have done, it's nice to see.
That's what we need. We need strong, solid starting pitching to
give us a chance. We haven't been swinging the bats as well as we
think we can -- myself included. But you still have to pitch. And
that's what this team is built on -- pitching and defense."

Contreras (13-7) struck out eight in his duel with John Lackey
and won consecutive starts for the first time since June 12. The
All-Star right-hander, who beat the Angels with a complete game in
the ALCS clincher last year, was 9-0 in his first 15 starts this
season and went 2-7 over his next 11 outings before beating Boston
8-1 last Wednesday.

"You hope that it's a confidence builder for him and that it
gets him on track," Pierzynski said. "He's got three or four more
starts to go, and we need all those starts to be as good as tonight
was. And if they are, then we've got a chance."

The White Sox have won their last seven games at Angel Stadium,
a streak that began with complete-game victories by Jon Garland,
Freddy Garcia and Contreras in the playoffs. They also swept a
three-game set in late April, with Contreras pitching 8 1-3 innings
in a 2-1 win over Kelvim Escobar.

Contreras took a two-hitter and a 3-0 lead into the sixth before
Chone Figgins tripled with two outs and scored one pitch later on a
single by Maicer Izturis. Bobby Jenks got three outs for his 40th
save in 44 chances after blowing his previous two attempts.

Jenks gave up consecutive singles to Vladimir Guerrero and
Garret Anderson to start the ninth, putting runners at the corners.
But the right-hander got Juan Rivera to ground into a run-scoring
double play and struck out Howie Kendrick to end it.

Lackey (11-10) retired his first 10 batters before walking
Tadahito Iguchi on four pitches. Jermaine Dye followed with a liner
toward Lackey's head, which resulted in one of the most improbable
double plays of the season.

Lackey ducked to get out of the way and got just enough of his
glove on the ball to keep it in the air. The ball sailed behind
second base, where Adam Kennedy made a diving, backhand grab and
tossed to first to double up Iguchi.

"It was a heck of a play by both guys," Chicago's Rob
Mackowiak said. "It's kind of the way our luck has been going.
We've hit the ball really well over the past week and really
haven't had a lot to show for it."

Kennedy also bailed out Lackey in the third, taking a hit away
from Mackowiak by backhanding his sinking liner at the last instant
and throwing him out. But Lackey's luck ran out in the fifth, as
the first four Chicago batters reached base during a three-run
rally.

Jim Thome walked and went to third on Paul Konerko's single, the
first White Sox hit. Pierzynski golfed an 0-2 pitch to right-center
to score Thome with the first run of the game.

"I know he didn't want to let me get a hit off of him on 0-2,"
Pierzynski said. "I'm sure he tried to bounce the curveball, but
he just threw it high enough where I could reach it. John doesn't
throw anything straight and doesn't seem to hit the middle of the
plate, so you have to battle against him. He always seems to pitch
well against us. But luckily, we had Jose going and he matched him
pitch for pitch."

Konerko scored on Joe Crede's single, and Mackowiak followed
with a sacrifice fly.

Lackey allowed three runs and four hits in eight innings,
striking out eight and walking two. Los Angeles stayed 5½ games
back of AL West-leading Oakland, which lost 9-4 at Minnesota.

"I had pretty good stuff. That was about as good as I've had
all year," said Lackey, who fanned five in a row between the
seventh and eighth. "If I get that pitch to Pierzynski down about
two inches, I'm all right. Then I left a fastball up to Konerko,
and that's about it."

Game notes
The Angels observed the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11
attacks with a pregame ceremony that included a moment of silence
and a video celebrating America. ... Angels RHP Brendan Donnelly
dropped his appeal of a four-game suspension for hitting Texas'
Freddy Guzman with a pitch on Aug. 16 and began serving the
penalty.