Garland dominates as Sox take finale
Starter tosses seven strong frames; Konerko hits 15th homer
KANSAS CITY -- A 2007 American League All-Star pitcher in Bobby Jenks closed out the White Sox 3-1 victory over the Royals before 23,004 at Kauffman Stadium Sunday, finishing off a 6-1 road trip for Ozzie Guillen's crew.
But an All-Star-caliber hurler also started this particular contest for the White Sox. With a little more support from the offense and the bullpen this season, Jon Garland would have a better record than his current 6-5 mark and would have received more serious consideration for the Midsummer Classic.
"I actually think I have better numbers than I did when I made the All-star team, besides win-loss," said Garland, who allowed just one earned run over seven innings against the Royals, striking out four and walking one. Garland lowered his ERA to 3.15 for the season, which ranks him sixth in the AL.
"That's kind of crazy," Garland added. "But there are plenty of guys going [to the game] who are more than deserving. I'll take my three days and enjoy it."
In 2005, the year of Garland's only All-Star appearance, the right-hander had a 13-4 record with a 3.38 ERA at the break. This year's numbers compare favorably to his breakout season.
Go beyond Garland's surface statistics, though, and his value to this team becomes even more evident. Garland, 27, has made 16 starts for the White Sox this season, and 11 have been of the quality variety.
In 12 of those starts, Garland has worked at least seven innings. The sinker-ball specialist also has had fewer than two walks in 10 of his 16 starts, with 50 strikeouts, 30 walks and 99 hits allowed over 111 1/3 innings. Back in 2005, Garland posted 56 strikeouts, walked 21 and yielded 109 hits in 120 innings.
Although Guillen mentioned Mark Buehrle and Javier Vazquez as All-Star candidates from his rotation on Saturday, Garland appears to be every bit as deserving and certainly ever bit as durable. The slow start for the offense, which slightly hampered Garland's chance to pitch in the Midsummer Classic, also has made him a stronger pitcher.
"Maybe it was the focusing early in the year, when I realized we weren't tearing the cover off the ball and we were struggling to get runs," Garland said. "That might have helped me bear down harder, having that thought process every pitch and not give up at any time."
When Garland found himself in his only real jam on Sunday, leading 3-1 in the seventh, he used his slick defense to snuff out a potential game-tying hit. The Royals (34-48) loaded the bases with two outs on Billy Butler's infield single, Tony Pena's single to left and a walk to David DeJesus. Esteban German, who had two of the seven hits off Garland, ripped a 3-2 pitch up the middle on a line, which the pitcher deflected through quick reflexes.
German paused momentarily to watch the shot or pose for effect in the batter's box, giving shortstop Alex Cintron enough time to throw him out by a half step with a barehanded effort. With Pena breaking on the pitch, Garland felt as if two runs would have scored on an infield hit.
"I like to think I'm a pretty good fielding pitcher," said Garland. "It went off the glove. I almost caught it. He might have got a little carried away there, otherwise he might have been safe. Alex stayed right on it and made a great play for me."
Andy Gonzalez led the White Sox offense with three hits and one RBI, a go-ahead infield single off John Thomson (1-1) in the fourth that plated Josh Fields. Paul Konerko knocked two hits, including his team-high 15th homer to lead off the fifth.
About the only negative for the White Sox (35-43) was Scott Podsednik's exit after a first-inning fly out to right. Podsednik left with a strained muscle in his left ribcage and will not be in the lineup for Monday's series opener against Baltimore at U.S. Cellular Field.
"Those can take a little while," said Guillen of ribcage injuries. "We'll see when we get to Chicago and the doctor sees how he feels. We don't know if it's the disabled list or day by day."
Day-by-day results for the White Sox on this weeklong road trip served as a nice momentum boost for a team with five wins in 27 games prior to its arrival in Florida last Sunday night. The White Sox came through with clutch hitting, if not an abundance of offensive firepower, and the starting pitchers won five on the trip.
Even the bullpen has bounced back, allowing just two runs over its past 15 2/3 innings. Jenks serves as the anchor of this crew, picking up his 22nd save Sunday with a scoreless ninth, and then celebrating his second straight All-Star selection.
"My goal at the start of the season was to close out every save opportunity I can," Jenks said. "If things work out that way [as an All-Star], it's just a bonus.
"Our road trip was the more impressive thing. Having a road trip like this gives us more momentum going home."
Pitching performances such as Garland's could give the White Sox plenty of second-half momentum, even if they don't rate an All-Star nod.
"A lot of it had to do with Garland," Kansas City manager Buddy Bell said. "When Garland is on, he is going to make it tough on anybody. I don't think he was in the middle of the plate hardly ever."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.