Starting with nothing
Even the major leagues' best bashing offense can't cover up all the blemishes.

For the second straight game, the American League's best-hitting team battered one of the National League's best closers in the ninth inning. And for the second straight game, the result was a loss.

"It means," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, "our starting pitchers have to do a better job."

On Friday night, the Sox manhandled Atlanta's John Smoltz but lost 6-4.

That was one game after they put the hurt on Philadelphia's Billy Wagner before losing 13-10.

"We ran out of time," said José Valentin, who hit a three-run homer against Smoltz.

It could be a case of too little too late, if you blamed the offense. But it was more a case of too much too early, if you blamed the starting pitchers.

The culprit was Scott Schoeneweis, who put his team in a 6-0 hole after three innings. The previous game it was Jon Garland, who allowed 10 runs in four-plus innings.

If there was any good news coming out of U.S. Cellular Field, it was that the Twins lost, leaving the Sox only half a game out of first place.

Oh, and that the Sox proved their offense wasn't completely intimidated by a cool wind that almost kept them from adding to their major-league-leading 52 home runs.

Neither were they intimidated by Smoltz, the normally reliable closer.

Held to just four baserunners and no runs through eight innings by Jaret Wright and Chris Reitsma, the Sox teed off on Smoltz. He allowed his first walk of the season, to Frank Thomas, and extended the hitting streaks of Carlos Lee to 25 games and Willie Harris to 13.

"I was a hair off," Smoltz said. "I hadn't given up a run on the road all season or walked a guy. I got that out of my system in one game."

Harris led off the ninth with a single. After Juan Uribe flied out, Thomas walked, Lee doubled and Valentin homered. The Sox even had a runner on first when Smoltz ended the game with a strikeout of pinch-hitter Timo Perez.

"A lot of people thought the game was over and we battled back," Guillen said.

Schoeneweis (5-4) lasted just six innings, mostly because he had thrown 105 pitches.

"He couldn't find the strike zone," Guillen said. "When you get behind those kinds of hitters, you're going to get hurt."

In the second inning, the Braves scored twice. And it could have been more if Eli Marrero had not been thrown out at home plate.

Julio Franco started the rally with a double and scored on a single by Andruw Jones, who came home on a single by Marrero.

Franco also was in the middle of the three-run third, which began on a double by catcher Johnny Estrada. Franco then singled, and both scored on a double by Marrero.

Even after Schoeneweis was gone, Franco was up to his "old" tricks, singling home a run off Mike Jackson in the seventh inning.

It's hard to be 67 years old and still hit," Guillen said of Franco, officially listed as 45. "The way he swings the bat and the shape he keeps himself in is something everybody should [watch].

"When you're in a wheelchair and still productive, that's something real special."

The Sox had been something special when one of their Big Four pitchers had started, going 30-17 before the last two games.