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10/02/08 11:00 PM ET

Rays loving their home dome

The Trop provides distinct advantage against challengers

ST. PETERSBURG -- Baseball's new superpower, the Rays, showed their strength in Thursday's 6-4 victory over the White Sox. And Chicago became a little bit more familiar with the increasingly important kryptonite for teams opposing the Rays: Tropicana Field.

"I don't know why people don't like playing here," Carlos Pena said before the team's workout on Wednesday. "We love it."

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And rightfully so. The Rays posted a Major League-best 57-24 regular-season record inside the cozy confines of the Trop, becoming just the seventh team since 1980 to play .700 baseball at home.

On Thursday, the White Sox got a taste in the Rays' first home playoff game. And the result wasn't exactly to Chicago's liking.

"They've taken advantage of it," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "It was a good crowd and they were into the game. There was a lot of artificial noise with the cowbells and they do what they can to get their team excited."

With Thursday's sellout crowd of 35,041, the Rays improved to 22-2 in front of a home audience of at least 30,000. The club's growing attendance, coupled with a newfangled belief that it can win, has Tropicana Field finally offering some identity to the long-beleaguered franchise.

"We never really took advantage of it [in years past]," Thursday's starter, James Shields said. "We didn't know how other teams felt until some of the guys started saying, 'Man, we really don't like coming in here. We can't believe you guys don't know how good you can be.'"

Now that the secret's out of the bag, it's an entirely different story for the AL East champs.

"We actually come in here knowing we can beat anybody," Shields said. "We haven't had that before."

And, parlaying the Trop's quirks -- such as the ricocheting crowd noise inside the slanted dome -- into a key advantage is exactly what manager Joe Maddon envisioned.

"We've talked about that from Day 1," he said. "Coming in here with [the Angels' organization] in the past, we hated to come to this building. ... So if you have a home-field situation like this, you should make it your home-field advantage maybe more than another team. Right now, obviously, we are in that position, and I like that. I want it to be a very uncomfortable place for other teams to play."

Up 1-0 in the best-of-five set, the Rays will look to use the Trop's magic once more on Friday.

"Game 1 or 2 for us, in my eyes are must-win," rookie Evan Longoria said. "I mean, home-field advantage -- [that] is what it's for -- you are supposed to win it all. So it's going to be big."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.