The bolts stayed on the bullpen door Sunday night. For the fourth straight night, the Chicago White Sox would not require it to be opened. On the Angel Stadium mound, the man they call "the Bronze Titan" was snapping fastballs during the last moments of the American League Championship Series.
Jose Contreras was strong. The Los Angeles Angels batters were weary and this was a formula that took hold night after night. They would not hit him in the late innings, just as they didn't hit Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddy Garcia, until the White Sox had completed one of the most remarkable feats in the last half-century of baseball.
Four games, four pitchers who all pitched the full nine innings. It is the kind of thing deemed impossible in today's baseball, built around strict pitch counts and bullpens loaded with multimillion-dollar specialists.
Four nights, four complete games. It's something from another era. From the 1950s in fact, when the last team to do something like this in the postseason was the 1956 Yankees, who had five straight complete games. But that was 49 years ago and one of those pitchers, Don Larsen, threw a perfect game.
There were no perfect games in this run, just a lot of very good starting pitching. And when it was all over and the White Sox players were splashing champagne on the ceiling of the visitors' clubhouse, their pitching coach, Don Cooper, wiped his eyes and exhaled.
"As far as I'm concerned if I do this for the next 20 years this group set the bar for performance," he said.
It's a high bar. But then this turned out to be an extraordinary pitching staff. A rotation of surprises from the blossoming Garland to the revived Garcia to the biggest surprise of all -- Contreras, the one the Yankees discarded so easily last summer. The better one pitcher did, the others had to follow. When Contreras pitched 81/3 innings in the Game 1 loss, Buehrle had to follow with a complete game the next day, even vowing to go out for the 10th if Chicago hadn't scored in the bottom of the ninth.
And if Buehrle was going to pitch a complete game, well, Garland and Garcia had to do the same.
"Look, it wasn't by design," Cooper shouted when asked if the string had become a source of pride for the White Sox. "It had nothing to do with us trying to get a record, we left those guys in because they thought they were pitching the best and they deserved to stay in the game.
"Hey, I was happy it happened. They deserved it. But it wasn't planned this way."
Rather it probably became a comfort. As White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said before Game 4, the hardest thing for a manager to do is to pull a starting pitcher going well in a postseason game. The risks of bringing in someone new seem too great. So where another time he might have pulled that pitcher in the seventh or eighth, the starter stayed in through the night.
Sunday night it was Contreras, who was so good after giving up a double and two runs in the fifth that he retired the last 15 hitters. Nothing was even close to a hit.
"It never even crossed my mind to throw a complete game," Contreras said through an interpreter. "I was just thinking 'get the W.' After the fifth inning I started concentrating on the batters and that's where my strength came."
It never could have crossed any of their minds that this would happen.
"You might call it lucky, you might call it great, but we stepped up," Contreras said.
Indeed they did.