Notes: White Sox building confidence
Faith in Contreras at its apex as series progresses
CHICAGO -- If the White Sox's 2005 season was viewed as a poker hand, then manager Ozzie Guillen and his crew would have wanted to go all in as soon as possible. From the start of Spring Training, the White Sox were playing with at least four aces in every deck.
But moving into Game 2 of the Division Series against Boston, the White Sox understood two important facts -- even if they wouldn't verbalize both. Jose Contreras now stands as the ace of this stellar Chicago staff, and if the White Sox take a 2-0 lead with a victory Wednesday, advancement to the American League Championship Series looks to be a very strong possibility.
Even if the White Sox were to drop both games in Boston, where the best home team in baseball resides, they would return to Chicago on Sunday with Contreras facing off against Bronson Arroyo for a deciding Game 5. Forget about the home-field advantage in this situation.
Contreras' 12-2 record since the All-Star break is all the advantage the White Sox need.
"He's definitely our ace," said White Sox reliever Cliff Politte of Contreras. "He's been the backbone, and I'm just glad he's on my side."
"I don't believe I've seen a guy improve as much as he has," added pitching coach Don Cooper. "He works his tail off. He's relentless. He deserves all that success because of that work ethic."
When pressed, Cooper admitted that it was nice to have an ace and a power pitcher at the front of the staff, and the specter of Contreras pitching in important postseason games stands as equally reassuring. But Cooper also pointed out that Contreras really isn't alone in his No. 1 pitching status.
There are actually six aces in the White Sox rotation when factoring in Brandon McCarthy with Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Orlando Hernandez, by Cooper's estimation. That's a hand very few people can trump.
"The best compliment to any pitcher is that when they go out on the mound, the players behind them believe they will win. We have six starters where the team believes it's going to win.
"I got a kick out of questions in Spring Training, about who is our No. 1, 2 or 3 starter? It only matters during the playoffs. Whoever is out there that day is our No. 1.
Fan frenzy: During 10 years with the Chicago Bulls organization, Brooks Boyer saw more than his share of insanely energetic crowds during championship seasons and important clinching moments. But the White Sox vice president of marketing said it was hard to rival the intensity from Tuesday's sellout following at U.S. Cellular Field, especially considering the noise at the United Center was coming from an enclosed building.
"Those Bulls' crowds were insane, but the noise came from inside, in a building with a steel roof," Boyer said. "Tuesday's crowd was unbelievable and rivaled those.
The players echoed Boyer's sentiment, stating that it was far and away the loudest crowd of the 2005 campaign. The crowd and players also formed a bit of a symbiotic bond during the 14-2 victory.
"Playing against the Cubs was a big series, but this was incredible," Politte said. "You get 40,000 behind you and it makes it fun. It makes you go out and do something to get the fans on your side and keep them going."
Big decision: White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf would not make any definitive comments Wednesday about the future of Frank Thomas. The decision will be made after the season and after all the medical records are reviewed in regard to Thomas' latest fracture of his left navicular.
Reinsdorf's final comments on Thomas, albeit brief ones, were very telling as to his true affinity for the Big Hurt.
"He will always be treated with respect," said Reinsdorf of the White Sox career home run leader. And when asked if that meant Thomas always would be part of the White Sox family, whether he was playing in Chicago or not, Reinsdorf responded, "You got that right."
Attention grabber: Even with the pressure stemming from pitching in his first playoff game, Neal Cotts didn't feel very different when he entered Tuesday's Division Series opener to face Trot Nixon. His nerves might have been calmed a bit by a 12-2 White Sox lead with two outs in the eighth inning.
But Cotts was jolted into postseason awareness when the crowd erupted in order to get Contreras to take a curtain call.
"I was real calm until that point," said the understated Cotts with a smile. "When they cheered for him, they put it into reality. But it was nice to come into a game, in that situation, and get the first one over with."
Cotts, 26, was one of the steadier left-handers in the American League during the 2005 campaign, posting a 4-0 record and 1.94 ERA over 69 games. He gave up only 38 hits in 60 1/3 innings.
Yet, the left-hander quipped that he knew Tuesday's wild applause wasn't aimed at him.
"I thought they might have been because I looked pretty good down there warming up," Cotts said. "Jose deserved it, every bit of it. I'm glad he got to come out so he could hear the crowd and hear how much they love him here."
Favorite son: Guillen explained his recent conversation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during his pregame press conference Wednesday. Chavez and the entire nation are hanging on each White Sox playoff game, with their adopted team being led by the beloved Venezuelan native.
"I would say I was honored," said Guillen of Chavez's show of support. "My mom will kill me, but it's an honor to talk to the President.
"It's fun when you've got 20 million people looking at you and wishing you the best. The conversation I had with the President, it was the big news over there. We have so many problems over there, and to me, to make my country happy about it is something I look to with a lot of pride."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.