OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Chicago White Sox have been awfully good this season, yet even Chris Widger knows that an eight-game winning streak also requires a few strokes of luck -- such as a backup catcher suddenly hitting his first homer in nearly five years.
Jon Garland pitched a four-hitter for his second career shutout, and Widger broke open a scoreless game in the seventh with a two-run shot in Chicago's latest impressive victory, 6-0 over Barry Zito and the Oakland Athletics on Monday night.
While Garland confounded the offensively inept A's with his latest gem, Widger was perhaps the least likely person to provide the pop.
The former Montreal catcher spent last season with the Camden Riversharks in the independent Atlantic League, before making the White Sox as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He has made just five starts this season as A.J. Pierzynski's backup -- but when Zito left a pitch over the plate, Widger put it in the seats.
"A guy in my position, you don't try to hit a homer any time, much less against a guy who throws like that," Widger said. "Sometimes you can't explain why it happens. When the team is playing well, unexpected people step up and do things like that."
It was his first homer in the majors since Aug. 9, 2000, and it propelled Chicago to yet another impressive win in this charmed April. The White Sox improved to 10-2 on the road -- their best start since the "Go Go Sox" did the same on the way to the AL pennant in 1959.
Pierzynski managed to get the ball from a fan in left field for a souvenir.
"That ball probably means as much to me as the first one I hit, just because of what I've done and the places I've been over the last few years," Widger said.
Carl Everett added a two-run double in a four-run seventh inning for the White Sox, who have the majors' best record at 16-4. Paul Konerko had a two-run single in the ninth for Chicago, which has held a lead in all 20 games during the best start in franchise history.
Garland (4-0), who's also off to the best start of his career, got his first career victory over the A's. He retired the final 13 batters in his first shutout since 2002 -- though even the A's acknowledged they provided little resistance.
Garland has built on three straight 12-win seasons with an outstanding start to 2005.
"I'm throwing a lot more strikes, and when guys get behind, they can't sit on my pitches," said Garland, who lowered his ERA to 1.80.
Zito (0-4) matched Garland's every move for six innings, but his teammates' miserable hitting made it hopeless. Zito battled, getting four strikeouts and pitching out of trouble until the seventh, but his teammates haven't scored in 22 innings, their longest streak in three years.
"If I go out and throw a scoreless seventh inning, it might have given us a chance to scratch out a run or two," said Zito, whose ERA ballooned to 6.60. "It's easier when you're not behind. It's not going to be like this forever. I'll go out and be optimistic."
The A's couldn't even reach third base against Garland, and Marco Scutaro's fifth-inning double was their only extra-base hit. They were shut out in consecutive games for the first time since July 30-31, 1997.
A's manager Ken Macha has tried plenty of different lineups and motivational tools, but nothing has sparked his club -- which was expected to be better on offense this season with the arrival of Jason Kendall, who's hitting .233.
"We're a good enough hitting team to score a couple of runs against anybody," said Scott Hatteberg, who went 1-for-4. "Everybody in here has to do a lot better. We all want to be the guy, but we need to relax. We can't take it upon ourselves to carry the whole team. There are too many good hitters, established hitters in here.
"We'll come out of it, I have no doubt in my mind. When? Hopefully soon."
While Garland worked efficiently, Zito finally tired when his pitch count reached triple digits. After Juan Uribe's one-out single, Widger hit Zito's 106th pitch into the short left-field stands for his first homer of the season.
- Ozuna, who drove in the go-ahead run for Chicago on Sunday in Kansas City, stole second base twice as the leadoff hitter.
- Oakland won seven of nine against the White Sox last season.
- Chicago OF Jermaine Dye went 0-for-5 in his return to Oakland, where he spent parts of the last four seasons.