Major Leagues: Rays 6, White Sox 2
By Rick Gano
CHICAGO ó B.J. Upton and these Tampa Bay Rays are headed home ó to get ready for the American League championship series.
Worst in the majors last year, the Rays will play for a spot in the World Series after finishing off the Chicago White Sox 6-2 Monday in Game 4 of the AL playoffs.
Upton homered twice, Andy Sonnanstine pitched a solid 52/3 innings and manager Joe Maddon’s surprising Rays won 3-1 in the best-of-five series ó their first trip to the postseason. Next up, the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Angels starting Friday.
“We feel like we belong and it’s showing right now,” Upton said.
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 ó days ago, local fans were thinking the Cubs and White Sox might meet in a Windy City Classic. But the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers and now both teams are done.
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 a gratifying moment for all of us,” Maddon said.
No longer bedeviled, the Rays won all year with young talent and improved pitching. Sonnanstine, who pitched a three-hit shutout against the White Sox at Tropicana Field in April, reversed a late-season slide that saw him go winless in his final seven starts.
He 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.
Upton, who hit only nine homers in 531 at-bats during the regular season, also homered in Sunday’s 5-3 loss. Benched by Maddon during the season for not hustling, the talented 24-year-old’s power display came against a team that relied on homers all year and led the majors in long balls.
“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 hit a solo homer for the White Sox in the bottom half and the white towel-waving crowd dressed in black had a reason to get excited. But Tampa Bay struck right back in the fifth against Clayton Richard as Akinori Iwamura singled and scored on Carlos Pena’s single that made it 5-1.
Jermaine Dye hit a solo home run in the sixth to finish Sonnanstine.
“Hats off to him,” Upton said. “He threw a great game when we needed it.”
Tampa Bay kept adding on and Pena hit his second RBI single in the seventh ó after the White Sox had intentionally walked Upton.