CHICAGO -- The words "inexcusable" and "embarrassing" were thrown out by White Sox players following a 9-7 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night, when a previously winless Rays team scored five unearned runs in the top of the ninth before a stunned crowd at U.S. Cellular Field.
Closer Matt Thornton and starter John Danks used those descriptions to analyze their respective efforts in this setback, ending a modest two-game winning streak. But they also could have applied these words to a disastrous ninth inning for the entire team.
"Ninth inning, we played very bad baseball," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "People can point or do whatever they want, but we played a very good baseball game, all the way to the ninth.
"We win as a team, we lose as a team. That's [Thornton's] job, to go out there and save, or lose, but obviously we did not help him to make the inning very easy."
Thanks to a two-out, two-run single from Mark Teahen off Cesar Ramos in the eighth, the White Sox presented a 7-4 lead for Thornton to protect. Thornton had blown just one previous ninth-inning save opportunity in his career coming into the 2011 season, and the newly anointed closer already blew his first opportunity Wednesday in Kansas City. The White Sox (3-3) rallied to win that game, but the damage was too severe for a Friday comeback.
Pinch-hitter Elliot Johnson opened the ninth with a broken-bat single, and after pinch-hitter Felipe Lopez struck out, Sam Fuld reached on a two-base Alexei Ramirez throwing error to score a run. When Juan Pierre dropped Johnny Damon's short fly ball to left, the go-ahead run stepped to the plate in B.J. Upton.
Upton's soft single to left scored Fuld to cut the lead to one. It was Dan Johnson's 373-foot blast to right on the first-pitch fastball from Thornton (0-1) making a winner out of one-time White Sox reliever Adam Russell (1-0) and erasing the Rays (1-6) as Major League Baseball's last winless team.
"Basically, I was bouncing off the bottom there [at .043]," Johnson said. "Every day coming to the park and working my behind off trying to hit anything I can in the cage and try and carry it into the game.
"Hitting is kind of contagious. When we had a couple of things go our way. The bloop hit -- the first one I think of the year -- it just sort of caught on and everybody started getting on base."
Thornton certainly won't hide from these first-week struggles. He sat in front of his locker, waiting for the media, after allowing five runs or more for the fourth time in his career.
In three games this season, Thornton has yielded seven hits over 3 1/3 innings while fanning just two. His confidence hasn't dropped, and neither has Guillen's faith in his closer.
"He's going to get most of the save situations," Guillen said, "but obviously when you pitch one inning, two innings, three innings to get used to that role, you're going to need some help. Right now, what should I do? I don't think I should do anything."
Twenty-nine of Thornton's 33 pitches were fastballs. But that pattern of attacking the hitters with his 95-mph heater has been highly successful in the past.
"Aside from that pitch to Johnson, I made a mistake over the plate against him, aside from that, I felt like I was throwing the ball pretty well," Thornton said. "They did the job putting it in play and making things happen.
"It's a three-run lead and inexcusable to give that up in that situation. The team played so good all game long. They had a nice little cushion for us, but [we] couldn't shut the door."
Home runs from Teahen, who had three hits and three RBIs, Gordon Beckham and Ramirez off Tampa Bay starter James Shields helped the White Sox build a 5-3 lead through six innings. Jesse Crain's two innings of scoreless relief bailed out Danks, with the southpaw exiting to a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the seventh, adding a glove spike in the dugout for angry measure.
Danks walked Matt Joyce and his .050 average to begin the frame. Two batters later, Danks walked Fuld as the leadoff hitter tried to lay down a bunt.
"Just embarrassing, there's no other way of putting it," said Danks, who finished with five strikeouts, four walks and 104 pitches. "You have a guy trying to give you an easy out and I can't even get the ball to him. I don't know. It's embarrassing."
Paul Konerko extended his franchise record by driving in a run for the seventh straight game to start the season, leaving him three games short of the Major League mark. It wasn't enough to offset a forgettable finish.
"We know these guys are going to play great defense. They did the whole game for me," Danks said. "It just happens. There really is no explanation for it.
"Our goal is to get the ball to Matt in the ninth. We know he's going to get outs. He's the same guy as he was when he was throwing in the seventh and eighth innings. As cliche as it sounds, it's only one game."