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Milwaukee's Miller Park is a fine home away from home for Chicago's baseball fans. Like Milwaukee itself, it's friendly and inviting, big but not too big, and with a pleasantly diminished volume level compared with our ballparks -- and our city. The stadium has its idiosyncracies: three Harley-Davidson motorcycles (a local source of civic pride) lined up just below where Bernie Brewer goes down the slide on Milwaukee homers, pom-pom girls (there are no cheerleaders in baseball!), and, of course, the wienie race of hot-dog mascots midway through the game. (The place takes as much pride in its eats as Sox Park, which is saying something, and a lot more than Wrigley.) The V-shaped opening in the retractable roof makes for a high contrast of light and shadow on sunny days, and, with the unusual configuration according to the compass, the shade from the grandstand crosses from the first-base line to left field, making left an even more wicked sun field than at Sox Park. Still, it's a lovely ballpark, impressive on my first visit.
It was almost enough to overshadow the Sox' Jose Contreras Saturday -- almost but not quite. Since his return from exile in the minors, Churchy, as I like to call him, for the big Cuban Churchill cigar, pitched his second straight start of eight shutout innings. That's 16 straight and running since coming back from Charlotte. First, it's astounding that he's back at all after tearing his Achilles heel last year, a career-threatening injury. He got himself in the best shape of his big-league career this spring in rehabbing, but while he had the stuff and the velocity, he wasn't sharp in putting it together. Since going back to the bushes, he's refocused and simplified his plan of attack: sweeping sidearm sliders to right-handed hitters and overhand split-finger fastballs to lefties, mixed with plenty of fastballs, both sidearm and overhand, and the odd curve. When the Sox staked him to a 7-0 lead, he stepped on the gas, stuck to the fastball, and mowed the Brewers down. If Gordon Beckham had made a couple of tough chances at third base -- the sort of plays no-hitters are based on -- Churchy would have taken a perfect game into the eighth, and who knows what would have happened from there? As it is, he left after eight frames, and the Sox claimed a 7-1 win -- an enjoyable day at the ballpark all around for Sox fans.