Garland wins fourth straight

Garland wins fourth straight

CHICAGO -- Put up Jon Garland's 2005 first-half statistics against his numbers from 2006 as the All-Star break approaches, and there are really just a couple of differences. Make that, a couple of glaring differences.

The right-hander has allowed 19 more hits than innings pitched in 2006, not to mention 19 home runs, compared to 11 at the break last year, and 11 less hits than innings worked. Of course, there's also the little matter of ERA, with Garland, the All-Star, sitting at 3.38 last year, and Garland, the pitcher getting a four-day respite from baseball, hovering at 5.30 in 2006.

Garland also has won five less games than he did at this point last year, but that total has been steadily growing over the past three weeks. Garland improved to 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA during his last five starts by virtue of the White Sox 4-2 victory over Baltimore on Wednesday before 38,872, the franchise-record 21st sellout of the season.

By allowing just one earned run on six hits over 7 1/3 innings, Garland punctuated his first half of work at 8-3 overall. It pales in comparison to the 13-4 ledger in 2005, but certainly gives the White Sox hope for a big second half from the talented 26-year-old.

"If Jon throws strikes from the get-go, he will be tough to hit," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Garland. "He's got his confidence back and throwing strikes makes it easier, which is good, because we expect a lot from him."

"Confidence has always been there for me," Garland added. "It's a matter of me throwing good pitches, and I hadn't been doing that early in the season. I was leaving stuff out over the plate. Lately, I've been keeping my head on the target and driving my ball through the zone a lot better."

This great effort by Garland almost ended in a no-decision because of a very rare blip on the closing radar from Bobby Jenks. The burly right-hander stranded runners on second and third in the eighth by striking out Javy Lopez with a high fastball, but then proceeded to create his own ninth-inning trouble.

Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada singled, followed by a run-scoring double from Jeff Conine, which one-hopped the wall in center. Jenks has grown accustomed to bailing other White Sox pitchers out of trouble, but on Wednesday, he saved his own save.

Jenks struck out Corey Patterson looking, fanned Ramon Hernandez swinging and then nailed Kevin Millar with a 3-2 slider that home-plate umpire Gary Darling called for a third strike on the inside corner. The Orioles (39-47) disagreed quite vocally, but Jenks had no complaints.

"It got plate. The umpire said it did, so it did," said Jenks, who saved his 17th straight game and now has 26 saves in 27 opportunities, as he celebrated the one-year anniversary of one when he was called up from Double-A Birmingham. "The only thing I was thinking was, 'Hit the glove,' because I was missing my spots so badly. After those first couple of hits, I hit my spots again and got myself out of it."

"When he's throwing his curveball and cutters and 99 mph fastball, Jenks is as tough as there is," Millar added.

The White Sox didn't exactly pulverize Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera (4-6). But their four runs in the first were enough to produce a victory that would equal their season-best of 26 games over .500, at 55-29, raise their home record to 31-12 and kept them within 1 1/2 games of the Tigers in the American League Central. Detroit crushed Oakland, 10-4, earlier Wednesday.

Scott Podsednik started the first-inning rally with a single off Cabrera, followed by his 27th stolen base. Podsednik was running again when Alex Cintron singled to center, scoring the first run.

Jim Thome (2-for-4) moved Cintron to third with a single to right, and Paul Konerko brought home Cintron with a sacrifice fly. A.J. Pierzynski extended his hitting streak to nine games with a run-scoring single, and Rob Mackowiak's bases-loaded walk forced home the final run of a frame that sent 10 White Sox hitters to the plate.

Cabrera found his rhythm after the first, but Garland made the early outburst hold. Garland's sinker apparently was working again, as he retired 10 Baltimore hitters via the ground ball. Wednesday also marked Garland's fifth consecutive start without surrendering a home run, not to mention becoming his third start this year without issuing a walk.

A pitch count of 92 meant it was a night of great effectiveness in Garland's mind.

"Keeping the pitch count down is the key to my success," Garland said. "I'm throwing more quality strikes in my last few starts than I have been all year, and I'm definitely keeping the ball down."

"The sinker was down pat, sinker after sinker after sinker," added Millar of Garland's mound prowess. "It was like he was throwing bowling balls."

Finishing the first half strong bodes well for Garland in the second half. Even with his early troubles this season, the White Sox have an overall record of 11-6 in Garland's starts.

That ledger means Garland is giving his team a chance to win, much like he did in 2005.

"The ERA is not where I want it to be," Garland said. "But with the record, more times than not, I'm keeping the team in the game or they are keeping me in the game with runs being scored.

"My last four or five starts felt really good. With the way I'm going into this break, I can't wait to get out there in the second half."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.