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.
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.