SERIES: AL Championship Series; Game 1.
The travel-weary Los Angeles Angels are happy to be in Chicago for Game 1 of the AL championship series.
The hottest pitcher in baseball has been waiting for them.
Jose Contreras will try to get the championship-starved White Sox off to a fast start as they host the Angels in the opener of the best-of-seven series at U.S. Cellular Field.
While the White Sox needed just three games to dispense with the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox in the opening round, Los Angeles went to Game 5 with the New York Yankees before pulling out a 5-3 win Monday night in Anaheim.
The Angels, who lost Game 4 in New York on Sunday night, had little time to celebrate their first trip to the ALCS since 2002 as they headed straight to Chicago to face Contreras and the White Sox, who have been off since taking Game 3 in Boston on Friday.
The Cuban right-hander, acquired from New York at last year’s trade deadline, pitched Chicago to a series-opening 14-2 win over the Red Sox last Tuesday in his first career postseason start.
It was Contreras’ ninth win in as many outings since a 4-2 loss to Minnesota on Aug. 15 as he almost singlehandedly kept the White Sox ahead of hard-charging Cleveland down the stretch.
“It’s an amazing job this kid did over the last year and a half,” said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen. “This kid came in with a lot of problems, mechanic and keeping his pitches. I always say Contreras got the best arm in my staff.”
After struggling for most of his season and a half with the Yankees, Contreras has emerged as Guillen’s ace, even though fellow starters Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle were selected to this year’s AL All-Star team.
“I’m more proud that we made it to the second round and that my team had the opportunity to give me a chance to have another start,” said Contreras when asked of his feeling on starting a second straight series for the AL Central champions.
“And of course I’m proud that I got the second time start, considering that we skipped one of our best pitchers. But I think I have as much confidence out of anyone out there. I’m proud of my teammates and hopefully we’ll stick together and go all the way.”
The White Sox haven’t done that since 1917, which was also the last year they had won a postseason series before knocking off the Red Sox.
“This team is the 2005 White Sox. It’s not trying to change what’s happened in the past and all that,” Konerko said. “We’re just trying to be this team, play our best and see what happens.”
Trailing 2-0 in the second inning Tuesday, the Angels got a homer from Garret Anderson, sparking a three-run outburst and putting Los Angeles ahead to stay.
Los Angeles will likely have to start veteran Paul Byrd in the series opener. Jarrod Washburn was unable to make his Game 4 start in New York due to a sore throat and fever, and John Lackey pitched in his place on three days’ rest.
“We didn’t have a lot of options,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re going to absorb this one. We’ll be on a flight in a couple hours, and we’ll work on tomorrow on the plane.”
The Angels were swept out of last year’s ALDS by Boston. They are trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2002, when they won their first and only title by beating the San Francisco Giants in seven games.
Game 2 is Wednesday night in Chicago.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Angels - AL West champions, beat Yankees 3-2 in ALDS. White Sox - AL Central champions, beat Boston 3-0 in ALDS.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Angels - CF or 3B Chone Figgins (.290, 8 HRs, 57 RBIs, ML-high 62 SBs, 64 BBs), SS Orlando Cabrera (.257, 8, 57, 21 SBs), RF Vladimir Guerrero (.317, 32, 108, .394 on-base percentage), C Bengie Molina (.295, 15, 69), DH Anderson (.283, 17, 96), LF Juan Rivera (.271, 15, 59), 1B Darin Erstad (.273, 7, 66), CF Steve Finley (.222, 12, 54) or 3B Robb Quinlan (.231, 5, 14), 2B Adam Kennedy (.300, 2, 37).White Sox - LF Scott Podsednik (.290, 59 SBs), 2B Tadahito Iguchi (.278, 15 HRs, 71 RBIs, 15 SBs), RF Jermaine Dye (.274, 31, 86), 1B Konerko (.283, 40, 100, 98 runs), DH Carl Everett (.251, 23, 87), CF Aaron Rowand (.270, 13, 69, 16 SBs), C Pierzynski (.257, 18, 56), 3B Joe Crede (.252, 22, 62), SS Juan Uribe (.252, 16, 71).
ANGELS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Byrd (12-11, 3.74 ERA). Byrd started Game 3 against New York on Friday, surrendering four runs and seven hits over 3 2-3 innings. He did not receive a decision in the Angels’ 11-7 win. In seven career starts against the White Sox, he is 5-2 with a 4.62 ERA. Byrd went 6-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 16 road starts this year.
WHITE SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Contreras (15-7, 3.61 ERA). Contreras has not had any career success against the Angels, going 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts. He was 7-5 with a 3.78 ERA in 18 home starts this year.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Angels, 6-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Angels - RHP Colon will be re-evaluated Tuesday and Scioscia hopes he can pitch in the ALCS. “It’s too early to tell,” Scioscia said. … Doctors think LHP Washburn has strep throat and his status for the next round was unclear. … OF Anderson is 4-for-7 (.571) with three RBIs against RHP Contreras. White Sox - Chicago is in the ALCS for the first time since 1993, two years before wild cards competed in the postseason. They lost that series in six games to eventual world champion Toronto. … 1B Konerko is 5-for-17 (.294) with a homer against RHP Byrd. … The White Sox lost four of six at home to the Angels this year, including the last four in a row.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Angels - 1-1 on the road. White Sox - 2-0 at home.