Jose Contreras 2008 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for March 6, 2017


Two countries and two mega budget franchises coveted Jose Contreras. There was tension between nations and fan bases for his services. And it turned out he had a moment of glory for the second team of the second city and emerged a champion.

Jose Ariel Contreras Camejo was born in Las Martinas, Pinar del Río, Cuba. He was a dynamic right handed pitcher and became a national hero. The problem was his nation was Cuba.

At some point, a baseball player from Cuba would be able to come to America as easily as if they were from Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. But when Contreras was pitching Pinar del Rio Vegueros in the Cuban League and for the National Team in the Olympics and Pan American Games, his ability to offer his services to MLB would require defection.

Three times he was named the Cuban Athlete of the Year and wowed scouts when he pitched at Camden Yards in an exhibition game in 1999. Around that time, Cuban pitchers Livan Hernandez and his half brother Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez had become post season stars.

The idea of finding another Cuban star shining in the post season piqued the imagination of American teams. And Contreras knew this, knowing that leaving Cuba would lead him to being a multimillionaire playing at the highest level.

While playing in a series in Mexico in October of 2002, Contreras defected and made his services available to Major League teams. The Red Sox, who were victimized by El Duque in the 1999 ALCS, made a push to sign Contreras to be a 1-2-3 punch with Pedro Martinez and Cy Young contender Derek Lowe.

But in December, the Yankees swooped in and signed him to a multi million dollar four year deal right after Christmas. Smarting from losing out of Contreras’ services, new Red Sox vice president Larry Lucchino dubbed the Yankees the “Evil Empire” publicly. Lucchino looked petty to other lower budget teams but the Yankees and their fans embraced the label.

Contreras joined an insanely deep rotation. Roger Clemens, David Wells, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte and Jeff Weaver were already on the team.

His 2003 was a mixed bag. He began the year as a long reliever and was bombed badly. The Red Sox blasted him for 5 runs in 1 1/3 innings during a 10-7 slugfest in Fenway Park. In June, he made a fine 7 inning start against the Reds but found himself on the disabled list shortly after that.

Contreras returned to the Yankees at the end of August. He made a good start on August 24th against Baltimore but was clobbered by the Red Sox again on August 29th.

Dubbed a bust by Yankee fans in the same category as Hideki Irabu, he finished September with 4 quality starts and quietly gave the team some hope.

In the postseason, the Red Sox victimized him again, tallying 4 runs over 3 innings in Game 6 of the ALCS, setting up the Aaron Boone game. He also lost Game 5 where he had to come into the game early for an injured David Wells.

In 2004, pressure was on Contreras. Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte were gone. Jeff Weaver was flipped for Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez was added to the rotation as well. Contreras needed to come through as the tensions between the Red Sox and Yankees in the AL East was strengthening.

He was hit hard early and often, once again by the Red Sox on April 23rd. He was optioned to the minor leagues but little seemed to be working.

Somehow, Steinbrenner and company got his wife and daughters from Cuba to witness him pitch a great game against the Mets in June. But that strong outing looked like a fluke.

At the trade deadline of July 31, the Yankees decided to cut bait. They swapped Contreras with White Sox pitcher Esteban Loaiza. Away from the Yankee glare, he had good days and bad days in Chicago, finishing the season with 3 wins in his final 4 starts.

When the White Sox began the 2005 season, Contreras was part of a talented but somewhat anonymous squad. All eyes in baseball remained on the fight between the Red Sox and Yankees (who would finish 2005 with identical records.) In Chicago, the Cubs still reigned. The White Sox were safely tucked away from the spotlight.

Contreras pitched well if not like an All Star as the season began. The White Sox jumped out to a fast start under manager Ozzie Guillen. Another figure on that White Sox team seemed to play an influence on him: fellow Cuban defector Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.

El Duque was in the Montreal organization during Contreras’ first year with the Yankees. But they were teammates in the Bronx briefly in 2004. In 2005, El Duque was on the White Sox and urged Contreras to drop his arm angle in his delivery.

He threw 7 shutout innings against the contending Indians after the All Star break. In the second half of 2005, he pitched like the ace the Yankees and Red Sox coveted. He went 11-2 with an ERA of 2.96 ERA for the second half, striking out 82 and walking only 27 in 103 1/3 innings.

The White Sox won the Division and looked to end their long (but compared to the Cubs and Red Sox underplayed) championship drought. The hard hitting defending World Champion Red Sox came to Chicago for Game 1 of the Division Series. Contreras got the start and Red Sox fans (including me) had memories of Boston pounding him throughout 2003 and 2004.

But Contreras got the last laugh. He pitched into the 8th, allowing 2 runs over 7 2/3 innings as the White Sox clobbered Boston in a 14-2 blowout. The White Sox swept Boston and went into the ALCS against the Angels.

Contreras pitched Game 1 into the 9th, but took a hardluck 3-2 loss. But the White Sox went back to their winning ways. Each Chicago pitcher threw a complete game victory for Games 2, 3 and 4. Contreras took the hill for Game 5 in Anaheim. The White Sox were on the verge of the World Series.

Now keep in mind at that time, the city of Chicago had not seen a World Series since 1959 when the White Sox fell to the Dodgers. The White Sox of 2005 were about to give the Second City a World Series for the first time since expansion happened, Division Play was started and Free Agency earned for players.

Contreras was solid but allowed the Angels to take a 3-2 lead into the 7th. Joe Crede tied the game in the 7th with a solo homer and Crede drove home the go ahead run in the 8th.

Meanwhile Contreras did not allow a base runner in the 6th, 7th and 8th. In the 9th, the White Sox expanded the lead to 6-3. Contreras took the mound for the 9th. After retiring Darin Erstad and Bengie Molina, the White Sox were now just an out from the World Series.

Contreras got Casey Kotchman to ground out sharply to first baseman Paul Konerko who stepped on the bag and hugged Contreras. The White Sox won the pennant. Contreras would have his moment of glory but not do so for Boston, New York or Cuba but rather for the city of Chicago.

He won Game 1 of the World Series in a solid start against the Astros. He would not get another start as the White Sox made quick work of Houston in a 4 game sweep. Chicago had a World Champion for the first time since the 1917 World Series and Contreras was the ace of the team.

While never the Cy Young candidate he was forecasted as, Contreras has put together a nice career and has become a baseball lifer. He has played in the post season with the 2009 Colorado Rockies and the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies. He made a cameo with the Pirates and even pitched a few games in the Red Sox organization (finally.)

He has played the last few years (in his mid 40’s) in the Mexican League, all the while looking for his next big league chance.


White Sox pitchers who clinched a post season Series: From White to Jenks

The White Sox are an odd franchise.
They are a traditional team, still playing in the same city where they started in 1901.
They have a rich history playing in one of the biggest media markets in the country.

And yet they are clearly the Second team in terms of attention in the Second City.
When they ended their World Series drought in 2005, it barely caused a ripple in the sports world. It was longer than the Red Sox streak of futility which ended in 2004 and was treated like the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Chicago seems to be a Cubs town first, second and third. And White Sox fans have a slight chip on their shoulder but also some wonderfully sarcastic bragging rights.

When MLB The Show made a wonderful hypothetical Cubs World Championship celebration on a commercial, White Sox fans countered with a video of their ACTUAL post series bliss.

The relatively recent title not withstanding, they have had only a handful of post season celebrations. In fact between the 1917 World Series and the 2005 Division Series, no White Sox team won a post season series.

It might not make White Sox fans happy to hear that, but it does make my live easy when writing my latest entry of pitchers who clinched a post season series posts.

1906 World Series – Game 6
White Sox 8, Cubs 3

October 14, 1905
At South Side Park

Complete Game Victory.

LAST OUT: Frank Schulte grounds out to first baseman Jiggs Donahue unassisted.

1917 World Series – Game 6
White Sox 4, Giants 2

October 15, 1917
At Polo Grounds, New York

Complete Game Victory

LAST OUT: Pinch hitter Lew McCarty grounds out to second baseman Eddie Collins who threw to first baseman Chick Gandil for the out.

2005 Division Series – Game 3
White Sox 5, Red Sox 3

October 7, 2005
At Fenway Park, Boston

1 inning of relief to save the game for winner Freddy Garcia.

LAST OUT: Edgar Renteria grounded out to second baseman Tadahito Iguchi who threw to first baseman Paul Konerko for the out.

2005 American League Championship Series – Game 5
White Sox 6, Angels 3

October 16, 2005
At Angel Stadium, Anaheim

Complete game victory.

LAST OUT: Casey Kotchman grounded out to first baseman Paul Konerko unassisted.

2005 World Series – Game 4
White Sox 1, Astros 0

October 26 , 2005
At Minute Maid Park, Houston

1 inning of relief for starter Freddy Garcia.

LAST OUT: Orlando Palmeiro grounded out to shortstop Juan Uribe who threw to first baseman Paul Konerko for the out.

So there you have it.
Not a lot of pitchers, but at least there are some color pictures in there. Something to rub into Cub fans faces.

If you haven’t seen the MLB parody video, check it out.

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Sully Baseball Salutes… Mark Buehrle and Paul Konerko

Tomorrow, the White Sox will continue to try and turn their season around and limp back into contention.

And the starting pitcher will be Mark Buehrle. Chances are Paul Konerko will be in the lineup, either at first base or as the designated hitter.

They have been a tandem for so long that it is truly worth a long salute here.

People talk about the great combination of teammates that Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera made for all of those seasons in New York.

And Buehrle and Konerko have not been together for as long as they have been nor have the success. But for a franchise best remembered over the decades for throwing a World Series instead of winning them, Buehrle and Konerko have seen a lot of winning. They contributed big time to the only World Series appearance in Chicago in more than half a century and the only Chicago title in 94 years.

Konerko was a product of the Dodgers organization and was later dealt to Cincinnati. He came over to the White Sox in a deal for Mike Cameron before the 1999 season. That was his third year in the big leagues and his third big league team. It is safe to say he found stability on the South Side of Chicago.

He cracked 24 homers his first year with the White Sox and posted an .862 OPS.

In 2000 he remained a solid hitter (.298 AVG, .844 OPS) was worth 21 homers, 97 RBI and a 111 OPS+. And the White Sox were back in the post season.

And in no small point for this post, he was joined that year by Buehrle. While Konerko was a first round pick and coveted prospect, Buehrle was picked 38th.

Not 38th overall. In the 38th round. He was the 1,139th pick overall. Right before him, the Pirates picked Shaun Skrehot. The infielder played 9 seasons and made it to AA Nashville and Indianapolis.

The pick after him has thrown 12 seasons in the majors.

The 2000 White Sox had the best record in the American League but were swept out of the playoffs by Alex Rodriguez and the Seattle Mariners.

It has been a while since A-Rod has been a Mariner. But that whole time, these two players have represented the White Sox with clutch play and class.

While Konerko played behind the massive shadow of Frank Thomas, he put up solid if not spectacular numbers. In many ways, his career resembled his one time teammate and current coach Harold Baines. His stats may not have been elite but they were good enough to make 5 All Star teams and twice be a top ten finisher in the MVP vote. And play nearly every season injury free. He is on pace to play 150+ games again this year, which would be the 8th time he would pass that mark in 13 seasons.

And of course he came up big time for the 2005 White Sox, unquestionably the greatest Chicago baseball team since the First World War.

His home run off of Tim Wakefield helped sink the Red Sox hopes to repeat as World Series champions. His 2 homers, 7 RBI and .937 OPS crushed the Angels in the ALCS and earned him MVP honors as the White Sox won the pennant.

And finally his mammoth grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series turned the game around and helped set up the White Sox win.

The starter of that game? That would be Mark Buehrle.

Since 2000, Buehrly became one of the most reliable and durable starting pitchers in all of baseball. He recorded 200+ innings every year from 2001 to 2010 (and is on pace to do so again this year.) He had made 2 All Star teams by 2005 and finished 5th in the Cy Young vote that year.

In the 2005 playoffs, he won Game 2 of the Division Series against Boston and threw a complete game to win Game 2 of the ALCS.

He started Game 3 of the World Series and got a no decision. But when Game 3 went to the 14th and manager Ozzie Guillen had burned through his bullpen, he turned to Buehrle to protect a 7-5 lead. He earned the save, to date his only one in the majors. He joined Grover Cleveland Alexander as the only person to start and then save consecutive World Series games.

The next day the White Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1917.

After the title, Konerko was offered more money to go to the Angels or the Orioles but stayed in Chicago. He responded with three more All Star selections, a fifth place finish in the 2010 MVP vote and 2 homers in the 2008 Division Series against Tampa Bay.

He represented the White Sox in the 2010 and 2011 All Star Game.

Buehrle continued to be a steady and sometimes dominant starter. He was named to two more All Star teams and won the last two Golden Glove awards.

In 2007, he threw a no hitter against the Rangers. In 2009 he did that one better by throwing a perfect game against the Rays. He would retire a record 49 consecutive batters that year, breaking the record held by his teammate Bobby Jenks.

And there was something kind of bad ass about Buehrle, an avid animal lover, wishing ill to Michael Vick.

Not saying I condone wishing harm on others, but it is cool how he never gave a damn what anyone thought.

The two are still solid players and performers after 12 seasons as teammates. They won’t be going to the Hall of Fame. Yet if anyone deserves to have a lifetime of standing ovations and love from White Sox fans, it would this duo of classy solid and champion players.

They don’t get the press that players on the Yankees, Red Sox or even the Cubs would get. But when you put more than a decade into the same team, bring a championship, multiple playoff berths and class to a franchise that needed turning around, then you have earned our salute.

Now take it easy on the Red Sox.

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