Bit of a wobble

The White Sox boast a 22-15 record in games against left-handed starters, including a triumph over five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson.

But as they head down the stretch toward a probable American League Central title, they have shown some signs of vulnerability.

They managed only two hits Thursday night against soft-throwing rookie left-hander J.P. Howell and three relievers in a 4-2 loss to Kansas City that snapped their seven-game winning streak.

The Sox also lost backup catcher Chris Widger for an indefinite period. Widger suffered a slight strain of his lower right hamstring on the basepaths in the seventh and limped off the field as pinch-runner Geoff Blum replaced him.

After the game, Widger didn't believe the injury was serious.

The loss cut the Sox's lead to 8½ games over Cleveland in the AL Central with 23 games remaining.

The defeat also snapped the Sox's 10-game winning streak over the Royals at U.S. Cellular Field dating to last season.

Howell, 22, was tagged for five runs in five innings of a 5-1 loss to the Sox on June 22 and had allowed four earned runs or more in seven of his previous 10 starts.

But Howell (2-5) showed an ability to make adjustments. Mixing a sneaky breaking pitch to complement an 87 m.p.h. fastball, Howell allowed no hits until two were out in the fifth.

"The kid (Howell) kept us off balance," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He was throwing changeups when he was behind on the count and throwing strikes when he had to and moving the ball in and out."

Widger snapped Howell's no-hit bid with a double down the left-field line and Pablo Ozuna worked Howell for a walk.

Scott Podsednik, who was batting .322 against left-handed pitchers entering Thursday night's game, lined a single into center to score Widger and give the Sox a 1-0 lead as Ozuna advanced to third.

With at least a half-dozen opposing scouts in attendance, the Sox opened up the playbook.

Podsednik drew a lead large enough to attract a pickoff throw from Howell, whose back was turned to third.

Ozuna broke home as soon as Howell tossed the ball to first and beat the throw from first baseman Matt Stairs with a headfirst slide to extend the Sox lead to 2-0.

"We got the right guy in the right place to do that," Guillen said. "Ozuna has been great for this team."

Ozuna's steal of home was the first by a White Sox since Brian Daubach accomplished the feat against Minnesota on April 27, 2003.

But runs were at such a premium for the Sox that Guillen lifted Podsednik for rookie pinch-hitter Brian Anderson with one out and Widger at first in the seventh against left-handed reliever Andy Sisco.

Anderson, who hit two home runs off Seattle's Felix Hernandez on Aug. 26, flied to left.

The Sox didn't have a runner in scoring position after the sixth.

Sox starter Freddy Garcia (12-8) pitched five shutout innings but faded quickly in the sixth.

Stairs' single and Emil Brown's double put runners in scoring position with one out. Mark Teahen's grounder cut the Sox's lead to 2-1, and then Garcia hung a slider that Angel Berroa ripped over the left-field fence to give the Royals a 3-2 lead.

"[Garcia] made just one mistake," Guillen said. "People have to take a look at Garcia because as soon as the game starts, you know him. He didn't have anything on the ball, but he went out there and pitched well.

"But there's nothing you can do when you get only two hits."