ChiSox flame put out by Rays
Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 3:26 pm
By: By RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — The Tampa Bay Rays celebrated with great fervor and with good reason. They’re headed to the AL championship series.
In a season of Ray-markable achievements, they added yet another to their list.
But, as first baseman Carlos Pena warned, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
After beating the Chicago White Sox in their first-ever postseason series to make the ALCS, the Rays are ready to keep rolling.
They will open on Friday at home against Boston in Game 1.
Ready for some more champagne-spraying parties, this from a franchise that spent most of its first decade in last place.
“This is amazing,” Pena said after Monday’s 6-2 victory over the White Sox clinched the opening series 3-1.
“We’re not done yet, stick around, you might see something crazy go on. We know how to celebrate, I will tell you what. And that’s what we’re supposed to do,” he added.
“We made it a point to actually celebrate harder every single time. So today we must celebrate harder than the one before, so stick around.”
Worst in the majors last year, the Rays now need four wins to reach the World Series. Starting Friday, they will face either Boston or the Los Angeles Angels for the right to play in the World Series.
Talented B.J. Upton, benched this season for lack of hustle, homered twice Monday to back the solid pitching of Andy Sonnanstine as the Rays shut out the towel-waving, black clad crowd at U.S. Cellular Field and beat the White Sox to clinch on the road.
“It means everything. We’ve been at the bottom of the barrel for so long,” Upton said. “I think there was a point in time where people didn’t even know who we were.”
They do now, for sure.
“Like Carlos said, we’re kind of a fraternity. And we stick together at all times no matter what happens,” Upton said. “As long as we keep that attitude and continue playing as a team, and doing the little things to win, I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t win this whole thing.”
After staving off elimination several times and winning a tiebreaker for the AL Central title, the White Sox were finally knocked out.
The loss dashed Chicago’s hope for a championship — days ago, local fans were thinking the Cubs and White Sox might meet in the Series for the first time since 1906.
But the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers and now both teams are done.
“They played better than us. There’s no doubt,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who congratulated Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon after the game.
Upton, the game’s second batter, homered to left-center to put the Rays ahead. He went deep again in the third, driving a full-count pitch from Gavin Floyd to center, and the confident Rays had a two-run cushion.
Tampa Bay, which never won more than 70 games during its 10 previous seasons, went from 96 losses last year to 97 wins and passed the big-spending Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL East.
“It’s good for baseball for a team like Tampa to win,” White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. “It’s too bad they had to beat us, but it’s good for the game.”
No longer bedeviled, the Rays won all year with young talent and improved pitching. Sonnanstine allowed two runs and three hits before J.P Howell relieved. Grant Balfour completed the four-hitter, striking out midseason addition Ken Griffey Jr. to end it.
“Obviously, this is an incredible accomplishment,” Rays general manager Andrew Friedman said. “But when you are mired in the day-to-day it’s hard to step back and appreciate what we’ve accomplished this year. … We’re focused on having two more celebrations.”
Upton, who hit nine homers in 531 at-bats during the regular season while battling a shoulder injury that curtailed his power, also homered in Sunday’s 5-3 loss.
“B.J.’s special,” Maddon said. “He’s very capable of those types of games.”
Tampa Bay increased the lead to 4-0 in the fourth when Carl Crawford walked and scored as veteran Cliff Floyd, a Chicago native, doubled to left. Dioner Navarro followed with an RBI single to finish Floyd.
Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye homered for the White Sox.
The White Sox beat Cleveland on the final Sunday of the season to get to a makeup game with Detroit the following day. They beat the Tigers and then Minnesota, 1-0.
After losing the first two games of this series at Tropicana Field despite leading in both, the White Sox came back home to win Sunday. And they were hoping for another three-game winning streak — but the Rays were too good.
“When you have to play playoff baseball the last two weeks of the regular season, it’s just so hard to get over that first hump,” Konerko said. “We just ran out of gas.”
Meanwhile, the Rays figure they are just at the starting line with players like Upton, Carl Crawford, rookie Evan Longoria and Pena.
Maddon, who wears fashionable eye wear and likes fine wines, good books and inspirational slogans, has pushed a decade-long loser onto the doorstep of a pennant in just his third season as manager.
“It’s a quite an achievement from where we have come from the last couple of years to get to this point so soon,” Maddon said.
“It’s a group that’s together. I know the word family sometimes is used loosely, but it’s true. But it’s just the beginning. It’s just the beginning of great things to come in the future.”