Sox expect tough test from Rays
Chicago (0-0) at Tampa Bay (0-0), Thursday, 1:30 p.m. CT
CHICAGO -- Facing Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series not only gives Ozzie Guillen a sense of accomplishment, it also gives the White Sox manager a great sense of pride.
Guillen's connection to the Rays stems from his final days as a player during the 2000 season. The franchise has come a long way since then, as has Guillen as a manager.
"You know what's funny? I feel proud to be the first manager to start against that team in the playoffs," Guillen said. "I'm gonna compete against one of the best managers in the game. The team made history in baseball.
"Baseball should feel proud of Tampa Bay. And I was the first manager to play for Tampa Bay in the big leagues right now. They know how I feel about them. And you guys that have been with me all year know how I feel about that organization. Hopefully, we play good against them."
For the rest of the White Sox, the Rays simply represent the next obstacle as they push for a 2008 World Series title.
"They have a good team, but I would rather face them than Boston in the first round," said White Sox starter Mark Buehrle, who gets the nod for Friday night's Game 2 at Tropicana Field. "They remind me of these guys, the Twins, in that they find a way to get on base, hit and run and steal.
"We need to keep the guys at the top off base, so if the big guys hit home runs, it's not as damaging," Buehrle said.
Following Tuesday's exciting 1-0 victory over the Twins in the American League Central tiebreaker at U.S. Cellular Field, Guillen announced that Javier Vazquez would start Game 1 on Thursday against James Shields. Guillen could have opted for Buehrle on three days' rest, after Vazquez allowed seven runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings in his last trip to the mound Saturday against Cleveland, but instead chose the right-hander on regular rest.
Tampa Bay claimed the season series with six victories in 10 games, including a 4-3 mark at Tropicana Field. The Rays won three of four from May 29 to June 1, including two on walk-off home runs from Cliff Floyd and Gabe Gross, respectively, causing an angry Guillen to call for changes to his slumping offense following that Sunday's 4-3 setback in 10 innings.
In a strange way, that miserable series gives Guillen confidence going back to Tampa Bay with much more at stake.
"I will take my chances," Guillen said. "We should have swept them [in late May]. We should have had a good weekend. That's why I was mad. They got a good pitching staff, but right now I think we injected new oxygen. We'll be ready for them."
"All year long, they've played very well [at home]," White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome said. "They've got good pitching. For us, we have to feed off the momentum here the last two weeks. We like our chances, but we understand going down there that it's gonna be a good series, a tough series, and we respect those guys a lot."
Entering postseason play with a Major League-best 57-24 record at home, the Rays provide a stiff challenge for a White Sox team that finished 35-46 on the road and struggles mightily on turf. As Guillen and Thome mentioned, though, the White Sox are on a little bit of a role with three straight wins.
Not just three consecutive victories, mind you, but three must-win contests. It's a mini-streak along the same lines of the 2005 squad's five straight wins to end the regular season, although the 2005 team was more complete from top to bottom. The point is: Any team possessing the White Sox offense and four solid starters can make a run.
"Anyone in the tournament is capable of winning. Look what the Cardinals did in '06," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "They won 83 games and they won the World Series.
"Who knows? We may go out in three or we may go all the way. But this team, getting here, nobody gave us a chance in the spring. Everybody was [criticizing general manager] Kenny [Williams] -- 'You didn't have enough pitching. How could you rely on [John] Danks and [Gavin] Floyd and get Carlos Quentin?' And it's unbelievable. Just fabulous."Pitching matchup
CWS: RHP Javier Vazquez (12-16, 4.67)
Guillen has tabbed the veteran Vazquez to start Game 1 at Tropicana Field on Thursday. The hard-throwing right-hander has been struggling over his last three starts, going 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA. He surrendered a .660 slugging percentage against in those starts, two of which were on short rest. He'll be fully rested to open the playoffs against the Rays, against whom he is 1-2 with a 3.54 ERA in three starts. TB: RHP James Shields (14-8, 3.56 ERA)
Shields pitched one inning Sunday against the Tigers in a final tuneup before the playoffs and retired the side in order. The 26-year-old right-hander's best pitch has always been his changeup, but he also has a plus fastball and curve, and he's added a cutter that has helped him throw inside to left-handers. Shields enters the playoffs after pitching 215 innings for the second consecutive season, which is a testament to his style of pitching and his competitiveness. Unless something goes drastically wrong, Shields can be counted upon to give the team seven or more innings. Shields is 9-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts at Tropicana Field this season. Tidbits
First-base coach Harold Baines missed Tuesday's contest due to problems related to an ulcer. Omer Munoz, an organizational coach, replaced Baines and will coach the first two games at Tropicana Field. ... Reliever Matt Thornton ran into the Danks press conference following the left-hander's spectacular start on Tuesday and doused the southpaw with a celebratory beer shower. ... The White Sox finished 8-2 at home vs. Minnesota, compared to a 1-8 showing at the Metrodome. ... Bobby Jenks collected 30 saves for a third consecutive season. ... Jim Thome's 461-foot home run Tuesday tied for the sixth-longest by a White Sox player in U.S. Cellular Field history. ... The team drew over 2.5 million fans for a third consecutive year and sixth time in franchise history. ... The White Sox finished 44-29 against the AL Central and 29-8 at home within the division. On the Internet
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WSCR 670, ESPN Radio Up next
Friday: White Sox (Mark Buehrle, 15-12, 3.79) at Rays (Scott Kazmir, 12-8, 3.49), 5:00 p.m. CT
Sunday: White Sox (John Danks, 12-9, 3.32) vs. Rays (Matt Garza, 11-9, 3.70), TBD
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.