Sox rolling toward danger

Tribune staff reporter

The White Sox finished their June barnstorming with a 6-1 victory Thursday and a three-game sweep of the Tigers, wrapping up the month with some impressive numbers:

An 18-7 mark in June, improving to 26-5 in the American League Central.

A season-high 10½-game lead over Minnesota in the division with some three months to go.

But they start a new month with some demons to overcome, opening a three-game series Friday at Oakland, the site of some of their worst struggles in the last five years.

That includes a three-game series in late April in which the Sox had an eight-game winning streak halted while losing two of three games, starting when staff ace Mark Buehrle twice failed to protect a three-run lead. Friday, the A's come in on a seven-game winning streak.

Since 2001, the Sox are 3-18 at McAfee Coliseum, including an 0-9 stretch.

"We never play well when we go there," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said after the Sox improved to 5-0 at Comerica Park this season on Freddy Garcia's complete-game five-hitter.

"Hopefully it's in the past. When we went there we were playing well and lost a couple of games when everyone got hurt on the same day."

After a 2-hour-4-minute rain delay Thursday, the Sox's hitters needed just more than four innings to get started. After Jermaine Dye walked to open the fifth inning, Aaron Rowand ended Mike Maroth's no-hit bid with a single and Joe Crede followed with a three-run homer to erase a 1-0 Sox deficit.

Carl Everett, staring in left field in place of Scott Podsednik, added a two-run shot in the sixth.

That was enough support for Garcia, who went the distance for the first time since June 25, 2004, against San Diego.

He also preserved a bullpen that worked 62/3 innings in Wednesday's 13-inning win. "We're starting to see the Freddy Garcia we knew we were going to have," Guillen said.

Garcia improved his mastery in day games (13-1 in his last 18 starts) and road games (13-2 in his last 17 starts since 2004).

After yielding an RBI single to Vance Wilson in the second, Garcia (8-3) retired the next 14 batters.

Garcia extended his winning streak to five games. He hasn't lost since May 14 and is 4-0 against AL Central teams this season.

Sox starters have yielded one run or fewer in 27 of 77 games this season. They limited the Tigers to five runs in this series.

Rowand punctuated the victory with a diving catch in left-center field to end the game.

The Sox are healthier now than they were on April 26, when they lost shortstop Juan Uribe (groin strain), second baseman Tadahito Iguchi (right knee bruise) and backup infielder Pablo Ozuna (sore left wrist), and catcher A.J. Pierzynski couldn't play because of a badly bruised big toe.

The depth was stretched so far that Willie Harris made his first major-league appearance at shortstop in the final two innings of a 9-7 loss at Oakland.

The next day, catcher Chris Widger made his first start at third and Crede, playing with a sore left foot, made his first appearance at shortstop.

And when umpire Hunter Wendelstedt ejected Crede, Dye moved from right field to shortstop for the final inning.

"We're not going to change no matter who we're playing," Guillen said. "We have the same guys, and hopefully it works."

The Sox hope Jose Contreras, their Friday night starter, can regain some semblance of consistency. Contreras is 0-2 with an 8.05 ERA and five home runs yielded in his last three starts.

"Hopefully we can build on what we [did] in the past three months," Guillen said.

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