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Rays put White Sox in 0-2 hole

October 04, 2008|Josh Robbins | Orlando Sentinel

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Their best first baseman took himself out of the lineup at the last minute because of an eye injury.

Their starting pitcher struggled just to complete the first inning. They trailed by two runs before their first at-bat.

But a little adversity didn't bother the Tampa Bay Rays, and now they need only one more victory to reach the American League Championship Series.

Fueled by a fifth-inning home run from Akinori Iwamura and clutch relief pitching from J.P. Howell, the Rays beat the White Sox, 6-2, Friday to take a 2-0 lead in the teams' best-of-five American League division series.

"It's pretty much been the same story since the beginning of the year," said Rays designated hitter Rocco Baldelli.

The Rays should feel confident when the two teams face each other again Sunday afternoon at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.

Since division series play began in 1995, a total of 35 teams have won the first two games; all but five advanced to the next round.

"We're against the wall," White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We've got to fight like a cat, and now it's a must-win game."

On Friday, Chicago had its chances -- and let those chances slip away.

Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir allowed the first three White Sox hitters to reach base, and he was fortunate to give up only two runs.

Kazmir didn't give up another run, and pitched into the sixth inning.

The turning point came in the bottom of the fifth. Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett singled against White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, and Iwamura walked to the plate. Three pitches later, the 5-foot-9, 176-pound second baseman sliced a home run over the wall in left-center, giving Tampa Bay its first lead of the night at 3-2.

"I hit it real good, so I knew it was gone," Iwamura said through his interpreter.

Normally, first baseman Carlos Pena supplies the Rays' power, but he's still experiencing blurred vision after scratching his left eye at home Wednesday night.

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Tampa Bay vs. Chicago White Sox

Rays lead best-of-five series, 2-0;

all times Pacific; all games on TBS

Game 1: at Tampa Bay 6, Chicago 4

Game 2: at Tampa Bay 6, Chicago 2

Game 3: Sunday, 1 p.m.

Tampa Bay (Matt Garza, 11-9, 3.70)

at Chicago (John Danks, 12-9, 3.32)

Game 4: Monday, 2 p.m.*

Tampa Bay (Andy Sonnanstine, 13-9, 4.38)

at Chicago (Gavin Floyd, 17-8, 3.84)

Game 5: Wednesday, 3 p.m.*

Chicago (TBA)

at Tampa Bay (James Shields, 14-8, 3.56)

*If necessary

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