Game 1: Rays rested; White Sox tested
Tampa Bay waited while Chicago fought for playoff berth
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays have had a breather, while the White Sox are coming off a breathtaking win in the American League Central tiebreaker game Tuesday night.
The Rays haven't played since Sunday, while the White Sox believe they are sharp after fending off elimination by winning games they could not afford to lose on three consecutive nights.
"That's open for argument," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "Some people say rest is important. Some others say you better be in there every single day to stay sharp. We're really not too concerned about that. We feel prepared. That's really all that matters."
The White Sox believe momentum can help.
"I think momentum is big. If you look at the postseason, the Wild Card teams do very well because they've had to play tight games, close games, to get to this point. Hopefully that will be in our favor," Sox slugger Jim Thome said. "When you get to this time of year, the rest is good. Also riding that momentum and those streaks, you want to come in on a high note. The adrenalin kind of keeps you going. But we'll see what happens."
Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said having three days off outweighs any concerns about what such an interruption might do to the hitters' timing.
"I think now we have fresh legs -- our arms are fresh out of the 'pen," Longoria said. "Three days isn't that much. The Rockies last year waited eight or nine days [for the World Series]. I would say that's a pretty tough thing to do. But we've only been off for three days, and it's just like the All-Star break, you know? So we will get right back into it. I think we will be all right."
The Rays' Game 1 starter, James Shields, has pitched just one inning since his Sept. 23 start at Baltimore. Reliever Chad Bradford hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 25, and three others -- Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Trever Miller -- have made just one appearance since Sept. 23.
The Rays' hitters have been taking batting practice each day, but that's a poor substitute for game pitching.
"I feel like we are as ready to play these ballgames as we can be," Rays right fielder Gabe Gross said. "Almost wish we were playing today, so we didn't have to wait any longer. I don't feel like, I don't know enough about things in the postseason to say whether it's an advantage for us or anything else. I know there's going to be a guy still standing 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate, and whoever does the best job pitching, [playing] defense [and] hitting is going to win the ball game -- advantages or no advantages."
Conversely, the White Sox hitters have been facing great pitching in a playoff atmosphere in recent days, but the Sox arms have had to pick up extra innings. That could be to Tampa Bay's advantage.
"We were really hoping those two teams would get into their bullpen last night -- wear out their bullpens," Rays right-hander Matt Garza said, referring to the tiebreaker game.
The Rays caught a break when the White Sox started John Danks in the tiebreaker game. Danks has fared well against Tampa Bay this year, but since he pitched Tuesday night, he won't be available before Sunday, when the series moves to Chicago for Game 3.
Rays manager Joe Maddon isn't concerned about Chicago's momentum or his team's time off.
"In regard to momentum, I mean, we've had three days to rest, and I know by tomorrow, my goodness, everybody's going to have that vibe going on, the energy level's going to be high," Maddon said. "We've had a lot of difficult games we've had to win this month also, just like they've had to. They've just done it more recently. I think they're going to gain a lot of confidence from what they've done over the last three days. But regarding momentum, I just think it's going to start from scratch. One team or the other will have to build their own momentum, so I don't look at it in those terms.
"The momentum will be built tomorrow at some point. But I don't think necessarily coming in the way they did gives them a positive influence in tomorrow's game."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen believes the path the White Sox took to get this far could be advantageous to his team's chances.
"I think because we've been playing like this for the last month maybe, like every game was big for us, every game was do or die," Guillen said. "I think when you pull off that last couple days, we faced three different ballclubs in different times, all kinds of crazy things happened, and did what we did, I think the players should be more relaxed right now."
A bigger factor for the White Sox might be where they're playing rather than how they got here.
The Rays finished with the best home record in the Major Leagues at 57-24 (.704), the most home wins in a season since the 1998 Yankees went 62-19. The Rays lost only five series at home all season (20-5-1), including just two of their final 22.
The White Sox were 4-6 against Tampa Bay this season, including 3-4 at Tropicana Field. Chicago hasn't fared well in domed stadiums or artificial turf this season either, going 4-16 in such games.
"It really turns in our favor now that we're not playing the Twins, because they [the White Sox] are not used to the dome," Longoria said.
Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye cited experience as a potential factor in the series outcome. The Sox are a veteran team with several players who were on the 2005 World Series winners, a team that won eight consecutive playoff games to clinch the title.
Thursday's contest will be the first playoff game in franchise history for the Rays, one of the youngest teams in baseball. And it is difficult to predict what any first timer will do in the playoffs. The Rockies did very well last season in their first visit to the playoffs since 1995.
Colorado ran the table en route to the World Series, where they were swept by Boston. Last season, the Phillies, in their first postseason since 1993, were swept in the first round by the Rockies.
Now we'll see if the Rays are up to the test.
"The first couple of days were a little bit overwhelming, but now it's kind of calmed down," Longoria said. "We've had some good success against them this year, and we'll just have to do the same things. There's still a lot of skeptics. I feel like people are still still kind of writing us off as somebody that's going to get walked over in the first round."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.