Jose Contreras

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras set the ALCS tone, even in defeat

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras set the ALCS tone, even in defeat

When he took the mound for the second of his three straight Game 1 starts in the 2005 postseason, Jose Contreras hadn’t lost since Aug. 15.

Contreras’ nine-game winning streak came to an end that night, the only time the White Sox lost during their playoff run. His Game 1 performance was the only one by a White Sox starter in that series that didn’t go the distance.

But the lone blemish on the team’s 11-1 playoff record that fall had nothing to do with an off night by the guy who transformed into Ozzie Guillen’s ace over the final month and a half of the regular season. Contreras lasted 8.1 innings, yielding to Neal Cotts for the only two outs the bullpen needed to get in the ALCS.

It’s perhaps somewhat lost to history because of what followed. Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and then Contreras himself threw four consecutive complete games to fly the White Sox first pennant in 46 years. But Contreras was just a hair shy of that good the first time around. He allowed just three runs, only seven hits and no walks. One of the only hard-hit balls he gave up all night went over the fence for a solo homer. His White Sox lost by just a run.

But when searching for blame, there was no way anyone was pointing at Contreras, who stayed ace-like, even in defeat, giving his team a chance to pull off one of those miracle victories they made look so easy during that 2005 campaign.

But unlike what happened the following night, when A.J. Pierzynski ran to first base and into White Sox history to jumpstart that evening’s listless offense, there was no spark in the first contest against the Angels, who were on their third time zone in four nights.

Garrett Anderson’s home run started the scoring, and the Angels went to 3-0 thanks to a two-run rally in the third, one pieced together on hits both through and on the infield. Joe Crede homered and Pierzynski singled in a run as the White Sox tried to claw their way back.

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras went 'ace mode' to save the season

But that Pierzynski RBI knock came in the fourth inning, and from there, be it against starter Paul Byrd, ace reliever Scot Shields or flamethrowing closer Francisco Rodriguez, the White Sox had just one prime chance. That didn’t come until the eighth, the only one of the final five innings in which they put more than one man on base. But that opportunity was squandered when Scott Podsednik couldn’t bunt Juan Uribe into scoring position. That meant Uribe couldn’t come home on Jermaine Dye’s single to right field, and Paul Konerko’s pop fly to center field ended the threat.

It was a startling change of pace for an offense that raked against the Boston Red Sox in an ALDS sweep. The White Sox scored 14 runs and hit five homers in Game 1 of that series. Tadahito Iguchi came through with a clutch three-run bomb off David Wells in Game 2. And Konerko hit a tie-breaking, game-winning two-run homer high over the Green Monster in the sweep-completing Game 3.

That power was nowhere to be found in Game 1 of the ALCS. And though those White Sox had more ways to score runs than just hitting the ball out of the ballpark, their much ballyhooed “Ozzie ball” didn’t work, either. Podsednik couldn’t successfully sacrifice in the eighth inning, and the same fate befell Aaron Rowand an inning later. Both Podsednik and Pierzynski were thrown out trying to steal second base.

No small ball. No Paul ball. No over-the-wall ball.

What else could Contreras do? White Sox starters put the team on their backs in Games 2 through 5, but boy did Contreras do his best to start that streak in Game 1. Two more outs, and it would have been five straight complete games.

Your Game 1 starter is supposed to set the tone. And while the White Sox lost behind their Game 1 starter in the ALCS, Contreras most definitely set a tone that was followed from there on out.

The only difference is that the White Sox won the rest of their games.

Keep reliving the White Sox march to the 2005 World Series with #SoxRewind, which features Game 2 of the ALCS, airing at 7 p.m. Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

White Sox 2005 Rewind: 7 nominees for South Side’s regular-season MVP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: 7 nominees for South Side’s regular-season MVP

You don’t win 99 games without a team effort. You don’t win a World Series championship without getting contributions from all over the roster.

But the 2005 White Sox are perhaps uniquely remembered as a unit, a group. Certainly that statue out front at Guaranteed Rate Field reinforces that memory, honoring the moments that fueled that championship run: unforgettable snapshots from Paul Konerko, Scott Podsednik, A.J. Pierzynski, Orlando Hernandez, Juan Uribe, Joe Crede, Jermaine Dye, Mark Buehrle. The list goes on and on.

As much as those postseason moments stick out, though, there were 162 regular-season games the White Sox soared through en route to October baseball and the title that ended an 88-year drought.

So with #SoxRewind’s regular-season stint winding down as we prepare for 11 playoff victories beginning Saturday night, how about a fun little debate: Who was the White Sox regular-season MVP in 2005?

Rather than just start shouting names at each other, let’s go through a list of nominees.

Paul Konerko. The obvious front runner, considering he put up the best offensive numbers of the campaign. He finished the regular season with 40 home runs, 100 RBIs, 81 walks, a .375 on-base percentage, a .534 slugging percentage and a .909 OPS, leading in the team in every one of those categories. Konerko helped prevent the White Sox from completely collapsing late in the season, too, putting up a 1.003 OPS after the All-Star break.

Mark Buehrle. The ace of the South Side staff, Buehrle led the rotation with a 3.12 ERA in 236.2 innings pitched. He ended up finishing fifth in the AL Cy Young vote, though he probably should have finished higher. Buehrle set the bar for longevity in a staff that specialized in staying in ballgames, with 10 of his 33 starts lasting at least eight innings. His 40 walks were the fewest in the rotation, and only eight qualified starters in baseball walked fewer hitters that season.

Scott Podsednik. Obviously, the power numbers weren’t there — his zero regular-season home runs made his walk-off homer in the World Series all the more incredible — but he supplied a base-stealing ability rarely seen in franchise history. His 59 swiped bags in 2005 still rank as the third highest single-season total the club’s ever had. Kenny Williams swapping Carlos Lee for Podsednik in the offseason provided the White Sox lineup with the balance that allowed the team to score so many early inning runs and win so many games.

Jose Contreras. Was he the best pitcher in the rotation in 2005? No. Buehrle was better. Jon Garland was better, too. But Contreras gets a nomination here for his clutch efforts down the stretch, effectively putting the team on his back and saving the season as the Indians made a furious late-season charge. As the White Sox division lead evaporated in August and September, Contreras played stopper to prevent a complete free fall out of first place, winning each of his final eight regular-season starts with a 2.09 ERA over that stretch. His efforts down the stretch led Ozzie Guillen to start Contreras in Game 1 of all three playoff series.

RELATED: White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras went 'ace mode' to save the season

Jermaine Dye. The eventual World Series MVP, Dye took a while to get going in his first season with the White Sox, but he took off, finishing second on the team with 31 homers, 29 doubles a .512 slugging percentage and an .846 OPS.

Jon Garland. Just as Dye played Robin to Konerko’s Batman on the offensive side of things, Garland was the Bucky to Buehrle’s Cap in the rotation. His 221 innings, 47 walks and 3.50 ERA didn’t lag too far behind Buehrle’s totals, and he, too, finished in the top 10 in the AL Cy Young vote. While Contreras shone down the stretch, Garland was the star of the early part of the season, winning each of his first eight starts, 12 of his first 14 and 15 of his first 19.

Dustin Hermanson. He didn’t start the season as Guillen’s closer, and he didn’t finish the season as Guillen’s closer, either. But he deserves a ton of credit for stepping up and locking down the ninth inning for the bulk of the campaign. Folks will perhaps more easily remember Bobby Jenks, who served as closer during the postseason, but Hermanson led the team with 34 saves and posted a 2.04 ERA as part of an excellent bullpen. He went two months and had already racked up 11 saves before he gave up a run in 2005 and blew just one save in the season’s first four and a half months.

Considering that all these guys and so many more played big roles in bringing a championship to the South Side, there’s no wrong answer. Perhaps you’ve got a nominee that’s not even on this list.

But let’s hear it: Who gets your vote for the 2005 White Sox regular-season MVP?

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras went 'ace mode' to save the season

White Sox 2005 Rewind: Jose Contreras went 'ace mode' to save the season

Quite simply, Jose Contreras saved the White Sox season.

That 2005 campaign will always be remembered as the year the White Sox ended an 88-year title drought, and generations of South Side fans will look back fondly on that group forever.

But they almost missed the playoffs.

As dominant as the White Sox were in the postseason, going an unheard of 11-1 en route to their world championship, they only got there by the skin of their teeth, narrowly avoiding disaster as the division-rival Indians made an incredible late-season surge.

What was a season-high 15-game division lead on Aug. 1 was cut in half a month later, at seven and a half games on Sept. 1. And even a seven-game White Sox winning streak to start September only stretched it to nine and a half games. It only got smaller from there, as the White Sox went 4-10 over their next 14 games.

By Sept. 23, that advantage was a mere game and a half.

So how did the White Sox avoid complete collapse? Contreras. He went full “ace mode” during the season’s finale month and played stopper in the truest sense of the word.

After he capped that seven-game win streak with a dazzling effort against the Royals on Sept. 7 — he pitched 7.2 shutout innings — the White Sox lost the next four games, their division lead dipping to five and a half games.

The next time Contreras took the ball, against the same Royals team he beat five games earlier, he won again, snapping the losing streak. But the White Sox still lost three of their next four games, and Contreras went to the hill with just the division lead at just three and a half games. He won again, allowing just one run over eight innings against the Twins.

But again the White Sox dropped three of four, including two of three to the Indians, and the next time Contreras’ turn in the rotation came around, the division lead was at a game and a half. And again he stepped up, going the distance and allowing just one run against the Twins. A loss that day would have dropped the division lead to a half game. Instead, that victory started an 8-2 finish to the regular season.

Contreras earned the win in each of his final eight starts of the regular season, posting a 2.09 ERA in that span and averaging better than seven innings per outing.

The momentum carried over into the postseason, when Ozzie Guillen made Contreras his Game 1 starter in all three playoff series. Contreras started a third of the White Sox dozen playoff games, with wins in three of them and a 3.09 postseason ERA.

But his biggest contribution was getting the White Sox to the postseason in the first place. From Spet. 7 to Sept. 23, the team went 6-10. But Contreras won all four starts he made during that stretch, preventing a true freefall out of the division race.

He was a starter. But he saved the season.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Friday, when you can catch the Sept. 18, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. Contreras works his magic in the Metrodome.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.