Rays chip away, defeat White Sox
Three home runs overcome early deficit vs. AL Central leaders
CHICAGO -- Bad things happen when the leadoff hitter reaches base, just not when you're a certain charmed baseball team from St. Petersburg.
Friday night, Rays pitchers allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base seven times, but Edwin Jackson did his best Houdini on "Elvis Night" at U.S. Cellular Field and Rays hitters powered three home runs to lead a 9-4 win over the White Sox in front of a crowd of 38,747.
"It was unbelievable," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "All of our pitchers pitched wonderfully in many respects. But we just can't do that, especially against this team. ... We got away with it tonight. We were fortunate. Our pitchers, they battled with a lot of intensity and a lot of passion, but you can not walk and keep putting the leadoff hitters on."
By winning, the Rays moved to 78-49 on the season while improving their road record to .500, at 31-31, but they were unable to expand their lead in the American League East, as Boston won at Toronto to remain 4 1/2 games behind the Rays.
Jackson picked up his 10th win of the season by holding the White Sox to just two runs, despite allowing the leadoff batter to reach base in five of the six innings he pitched. By the time the right-hander had thrown his 97th and final pitch at the end of the sixth, he had skillfully managed to scatter seven hits and five walks.
"It's a crazy game; sometimes you don't have answers for stuff, you just take it as it is," Jackson said.
In the eyes of his manager, Jackson has improved greatly as a pitcher since last season, when he went 5-15.
"The difference between him last year and this year is his ability not turn those things into big innings, and that's why he's been able to run up his record," Maddon said. "[Ten wins] is quite a departure from last year. The stuff's the same -- he still has a tendency to walk folks. But his composure is a lot better than it was last year. I think that was the difference."
Jackson became the fourth starter in the Rays' rotation to reach 10 wins on the season, joining Andy Sonnanstine, Matt Garza, and James Shields. Tampa Bay has never had more than two starters with 10 wins in a season in franchise history.
Nick Swisher homered in his fourth consecutive game in the fourth, with a man on board, to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead. The Rays began to chip at the lead in the fifth on Akinori Iwamura's RBI triple. Carlos Pena tied the game in the sixth with his 26th home run of the season, a solo shot off John Danks, before Jason Bartlett's RBI double in the seventh gave the Rays a 3-2 lead and chased Danks.
With the Rays clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh, Grant Balfour entered the game with one out, and White Sox runners on first and second. The big Aussie quickly extinguished the threat by striking out in succession Carlos Quentin, the AL home run leader; and Jermaine Dye, who is tied for second in home runs.
"Two good hitters," Balfour said. "Quentin is probably one of the better hitters in the league this year. And Jermaine Dye is a good hitter, too. I've got a lot of respect for both of those guys. But that's my job to come in and face guys like that. And I'm happy to get the job done tonight."
Rocco Baldelli led off the eighth with his first home run of the season -- and first since May 3, 2007 -- when he hit a 3-2 pitch from Octavio Dotel into the right-field stands.
"I just want to get back in the swing of things where I feel comfortable," Baldelli said. "It's not a big deal when I get through a game and do something well. I just want to contribute to what's going on. It's awesome."
Willy Aybar followed Baldelli's home run with his second double of the game before Ben Zobrist hit his sixth long ball of the season, a two-run shot on a 3-2 pitch from Dotel to give the Rays a 6-2 lead.
"They're playing unbelievable baseball this year," Dotel said. "You can't be surprised that a team like that gets you the first game of the series. [But] there's two more games, there's nothing over yet."
Alexei Ramirez's two-run homer in the eighth off J.P. Howell cut the Rays' lead to 6-4, but the Rays answered in the top of the ninth with an RBI double by Pena, an RBI single by Zobrist and another run scored when Gabe Gross grounded to second, to push the lead to five.
"That's huge, we got them going again [in the ninth]," Maddon said. "Great at-bats and we wanted to do the add-on stuff, and it permitted us to not have to use [closer Dan Wheeler] tonight."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.