10/03/08 11:27 PM ET
Never counted out, Rays take Game 2
Aki's two-run dinger begets comeback effort to drop White Sox
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays left-hander couldn't find the strike zone, the White Sox loaded the bases and the inning lasted for what seemed like an entire 162-game season.
The win gives the Rays a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. Twenty-seven of the 31 teams to take a 2-0 Division Series lead have gone on to win the series.
"I know we never doubted ourselves [at the beginning of the game]," B.J. Upton said. "That was still early, a lot of the ballgame to be played at that point. It could have been a lot worse with that first inning and Kaz got out of it with just two.
"He came out and pretty much shut them down the rest of the time he was out there. I think we kind of built off of that."
Kazmir also struggled in the second inning, but managed to once again escape.
"Once I got those first two innings out of the way, it felt like everything started to come together and I felt like, 'OK, now I can maybe salvage this outing and go as deep as I can to not have the bullpen go out there and get too many outs.'" Kazmir said.
Down 2-0, the Rays got one back in the bottom of the second on Dioner Navarro's RBI single. Akinori Iwamura then came through with the big blow in the fifth inning when he hit a 1-1 pitch from White Sox starter Mark Buehrle over the wall in left field for a two-run homer that gave the Rays a 3-2 lead.
"As soon as I hit the ball, I hit it real good, so I knew it was gone," said Iwamura, who took a curtain call. "But at the same time, this is what [Rays manager] Joe [Maddon] says to me all the time: 'Run the bases.'
Fastest starts by expansion teams in their first postseason
|1997 Florida Marlins||4-0 (Swept San Francisco in the NLDS and won first game vs. Atlanta in NLCS)|
|1969 New York Mets||3-0 (Swept Atlanta in the NLCS)|
|1985 Toronto Blue Jays||2-0 (Won first two games of the ALCS vs. Kansas City)|
|2008 Tampa Bay Rays||2-0 (Won first two games of ALDS vs. Chicago)|
Grant Balfour took over for Kazmir with one out in the sixth just when Orlando Cabrera stepped into the batter's box for his fourth at-bat of the evening. Just over 24 hours earlier, Balfour and Cabrera exchanged words during and after their highly publicized Game 1 matchup. And just like Game 1, Balfour again won their battle by retiring Cabrera on a groundout before getting Nick Swisher to fly out to left to end the threat.
Balfour found trouble in the seventh when he gave up singles to the first two hitters he faced. So Maddon waved his left arm toward the bullpen and J.P. Howell entered the game, retiring Jim Thome, Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski in order to dodge trouble.
From day one as manager of the Rays, Maddon has talked about scoring "jugs" runs, which in Maddonese translates to going for the jugular in the late innings by piling on more runs. Friday night the jugs runs could not have come at a better time.
Holding a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth, Upton tripled to lead off the inning. Carl Crawford singled home Upton, then stole second and went to third on a groundout before scoring on Rocco Baldelli's single. With two outs, Navarro then dropped an seeing-eye single into shallow center field. When the ball took a funny hop off the turf, Baldelli continued running hard around third and the Rays took a 6-2 lead to the ninth inning.
"The jugs runs were definitely big, especially with that ballclub over there," Upton said. "A one-run game with that ballclub over there, they can pretty much spoil your night with one swing. So you get those runs late, it's a big upper for us. And it might have taken some of the wind out of them, too."
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sounded impressed by what he's seen of the Rays after two games.
"You know, they're here for a reason," Guillen said. "They're here because they can pitch and they catch the ball. They will take any little thing and take advantage of their speed and they don't strike out much.
"When you have that combination with the ballclub, you can be anything in the big leagues, because you have so many different weapons, you have to be aware about anything. They don't have a legit closer, and I see they have lefty, right, lefty in the bullpen. That's why they have the brightest men I've seen in the game right now."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.