Rays down White Sox to end 3-game skid

BY foxsports • April 18, 2009

The Tampa Bay Rays insisted there was nothing wrong with their offense that some timely hitting wouldn't solve.

Down three runs and facing the prospect of a four-game losing streak at home for the first time in more than a year, the AL champions rallied Friday night for a 6-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox.

"If you walk in here on a daily basis, you wouldn't know if we had won or lost the day before. That's the way I like it," manager Joe Maddon said after Ben Zobrist's pinch-hit grand slam stopped a skid in which the Rays struggled at the plate in key situations.

"Our guys believe. We know that we can do this. We know that we're going to hit better as the season is in progress," Maddon added. "We know the bullpen's going to be all right, we know the starting pitching is good."

Carlos Pena homered for the fifth time in six days for the Rays, who were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position during a 3-2 loss to the White Sox on Thursday night. That loss gave them their first three-game losing streak at Tropicana Field in a year.

"Obviously it's just the beginning of the season. But we have been struggling the last few games with the bats," Zobrist said. "It was nice to come awake a little bit today."

Right-hander James Shields (2-1) recovered after giving up sixth-inning home runs to Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye to win for the second time since an opening day loss. He allowed five runs and seven hits, struck out four and walked two in 7 1-3 innings.

Zobrist hit his slam off Matt Thornton (0-1) after the Rays loaded the bases with two outs against White Sox starter Bartolo Colon. The shot into the left-field stands wiped out a 5-2 lead that Chicago took when Quentin hit a solo homer and Dye followed with a two-run shot.

"He knows I have to come after him and throw strikes. I can't afford to walk guys there," Thornton said. "The situation right there, they're fun to come into. But they're the toughest ones you're going to face."

Pena led off the second inning with his sixth homer. The slugger has hit safely in 10 straight games since going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts at Boston on opening day, and he has five homers and 11 RBIs in his past six games.

Brian Shouse and Dan Wheeler finished a scoreless eighth for Tampa Bay. Closer Troy Percival worked through a ninth-inning jam for his second save.

"I made a few pitches early in the game that could have easily cost us. Guys did a great job of coming right back and changing the momentum," Shields said. "Hats off to the offense for doing that."

The White Sox took a 2-1 lead in the third, scoring on Chris Getz's RBI double and Josh Fields' grounder to shortstop. They threatened again in the fifth, but stranded two runners in scoring position when Fields hit a hard liner to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria.

Longoria rejoined the Rays after missing two games because of a death in the family, arriving in town around 5 a.m. on a redeye flight from California. The 2008 AL Rookie of the Year went 1-for-4 with a sixth-inning double that extended his hitting streak to nine games.

Colon allowed five runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings. He struck out four and departed after his only walk loaded the bases in the sixth. Zobrist hit his third career grand slam on a 1-1 pitch from Thornton, who had not allowed a run in five appearances this season.

"I went to the best lefty we have in the bullpen, and the best matchup," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.

"They pinch-hit. I expect that. But still you've got to come from the bench. He hit a good pitch and hit it pretty good."

Zobrist was taking some cuts in the indoor batting cage when he was summoned to face Thornton. He said he wasn't thinking home run when he headed to the plate.

"I really didn't have time to think about it, which is probably a good thing. ... I just ran down there, literally threw my batting gloves and helmet on and stepped up to the plate," Zobrist said.

"I faced him before, so I know what he's got. I was looking to be aggressive, looking for something hard because he throws everything pretty hard. I was fortunate to get the barrel to a cutter inside."


Pena's homer gave him at least one RBI in six consecutive games. ... Dye also had a two-run homer Thursday night. He is one RBI shy of 1,000 for his career. ... Zobrist's homer was the second pinch-hit grand slam in Rays history. Randy Winn hit the other against Detroit in 2002. ... Mayor Hirohisa Ishibashi and other representatives of Uwajima, Japan, presented the Rays with pearl broaches recognizing Tampa Bay's AL championship. Uwajima is the hometown of 2B Akinori Iwamura.

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