Rays' playoff debut a hit

The Baltimore Sun

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The power-heavy Chicago White Sox were pounded yesterday by an exceptional rookie.

Veteran pitcher Javier Vazquez failed to erase questions about his malaise on big stages.

And for all their experience, the White Sox failed to rattle the mind-set of the young and confident Tampa Bay Rays.

That left Chicago a loser after it showed an array of shortcomings in a somewhat testy 6-4 loss to the Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series at noisy Tropicana Field.

With the exception of Dewayne Wise's three-run home run and Paul Konerko's solo shot, Chicago was incredibly listless. It will attempt to tie the best-of-five series today in Game 2.

If the White Sox are to heed manager Ozzie Guillen's call not to be content with their AL Central title, correcting their flaws immediately would be a nice start.

The Rays, in their first playoff game in the franchise's 11-year history, never got off their game after falling behind 3-1 in the third on Wise's home run. They didn't even rely on their major league-leading running game, as standout rookie third baseman Evan Longoria hit solo home runs in his first two at-bats against the beleaguered Vazquez.

Longoria said his homers don't mean he wasn't feeling nerves.

"I was nervous," Longoria said. "I think if you're not nervous in this situation, you're really not soaking in the moment."

Orlando Cabrera failed to execute a hit-and-run play that resulted in A.J. Pierzynski getting thrown out easily at second base, but the biggest sign of the White Sox's frustration came with Cabrera at the plate with the bases loaded in the seventh.

Shortly after animated reliever Grant Balfour struck out Juan Uribe for the second out, Cabrera kicked dirt in the direction of the mound after Balfour's first pitch sailed wide. Balfour took a few steps off the mound, and plate umpire Joe West quickly jumped in.

Balfour finished the at-bat by striking out Cabrera and pumping his arms and yelling at Cabrera, who wasn't pleased. Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, a former White Sox player, was yelling at Sox first base coach Omer Munoz for allegedly yelling at Balfour to get off the field.

"Apparently, [Balfour] likes to be challenged," Cabrera said. "So I was just trying to take his mind out of the game, something like that, and just challenge him a little bit. And he won, he won the battle."

Said Pierzynski, who was jogging from first base to the dugout: "I just heard jawing. You guys will have to blame someone else this time."

That ended the White Sox's best chance at a comeback. Konerko's homer came when he led off the ninth before Dan Wheeler retired the final three batters.

Aside from the homers, the only other positive development that might play a bigger role should Chicago rally is the pitching of rookie left-hander Clayton Richard. He relieved Vazquez and threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings while striking out five. The Rays were only 25-24 in games against left-handed starters during the regular season, and the White Sox will start left-handers Mark Buehrle and John Danks in the next two games.

"We have to win [today]," Guillen said. "You know what I mean? It's not a do-or-die thing, but I'd rather go home with one win than go against the wall. But this ballclub was against the wall a lot of times, and we pulled it out."

Tampa Bay slugger Carlos Pena left after the second inning with slightly blurred vision in his left eye. The Rays said he accidentally scratched his eye at home and was expected to return to play today.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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