Rays shine bright in 1st playoff game
Posted: Friday, October 3, 2008 6:13 pm
By: By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — There’s little that surprises the Tampa Bay Rays about Evan Longoria.
“He’s always got this way about him,” manager Joe Maddon said of the rookie. “He’s not going to be overwhelmed by the situation.”
The skipper just as well could have been talking about his entire team.
Longoria and the rest of AL East champions hardly resembled postseason novices Thursday in beating the Chicago White Sox 6-4 in Game 1 of the best-of-five playoff series that continues tonight at Tropicana Field.
The All-Star third baseman homered twice off Javier Vazquez, and the young Rays showed no signs of October jitters in winning the first playoff game in franchise history behind the pitching of James Shields and an improved bullpen.
It’s the same formula they followed in compiling the best home record (57-24) in baseball and winning 97 games overall to become the second AL team to make the playoffs a year after finishing with the worst record in the majors.
“I really tried to do everything the same as I do every day,” Longoria said. “You could sense that there was a different feeling about the game — you know, the energy level in the ballpark — but other than that, I was able to settle in pretty quickly.”
Longoria became the second player to homer in his first two postseason at-bats, joining one of his former minor league hitting coaches, Gary Gaetti, who did it with the Minnesota Twins in 1987.
He started the year in the minors and still hit 27 homers in the big leagues despite missing a month with a broken right wrist.
“Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. … He likes these moments in a non-cocky way. He’s just very confident,” Maddon said. “With that, I really did expect him to have a very good postseason.”
Longoria insisted he wasn’t as calm as he appeared.
“I think if you’re not nervous in this situation, you’re really not soaking in the moment,” he said. “I was anxious to get up there and … he made a couple mistakes, and that’s what you’re supposed to do as a good hitter, hit the mistakes.”
Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir (12-8) faces Mark Buehrle (15-12) in Game 2.
“It’s not a do or die thing, but I’d rather go home with one win than go home with our backs to the wall,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Chicago beat Minnesota in a one-game playoff that decided the AL Central championship Tuesday, and took a 3-1 lead on Dewayne Wise’s three-run homer in the third inning. But Javier Vazquez, who has a history of flopping in big games, could not hold it.
Longoria homered on his first postseason pitch, a 421-foot leadoff drive in the second. He put Tampa Bay ahead 4-3 with another solo shot in the third, a 430-foot homer off one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana.
Guillen shot down the notion that the White Sox may have emotionally drained by having to win what amounted to elimination games Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to nail down their playoff berth.
“I think that’s an excuse,” the manager said. “We had a day off. The guys were ready and prepared for the game.”
The Rays led 6-3 in the seventh when things got tense.
Grant Balfour relieved Shields with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Juan Uribe. Orlando Cabrera was up next and after ball one, he kicked dirt toward the mound and appeared to shout something at Balfour. The reliever walked toward the plate before being stopped by umpire Joe West.
Balfour fanned Cabrera to end the threat, pumped his fist and pointed at the White Sox shortstop.
The exchange also brought Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez out of the dugout and more words were exchanged.
“I told him to go sit down. … I felt like he was insulting me. I was standing my ground, letting him know I wasn’t going to stand there and take it ,” Balfour said.
Cabrera said he was responding to something the reliever said after the first pitch.
“They say that he always gets pumped up like that,” Cabrera said. “I didn’t know that so I just got mad a little bit and I was just pumped up. … It was just heat of the moment.”
Shields allowed three runs and six hits in 61/3 innings. Balfour struck out both batters he faced and J.P. Howell worked a perfect eighth.
Dan Wheeler gave up a solo home run to Paul Konerko in finishing for his first career postseason save.
“I like the way our guys went about the business a lot,” said Maddon, who doesn’t want his players to stray from the routine that got them this far.
“After the game we celebrated as normal. I like that. And now we’re going to get ready for (Friday).”
Notes: Chicago CF Ken Griffey Jr. went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first playoff game since 1997, when he was with Seattle. … Tampa Bay LF Carl Crawford made his first start since suffering a finger injury on Aug. 9 and had a RBI single in the fifth inning. … Rays 1B Carlos Pena left the game after two innings with slightly blurred vision in his left eye. The team said the injury is not serious and he’s expected to be in the lineup for Game 2.