Sunday, 20 April 2008

Turn around

Chicago White Sox 9 - Tampa Bay Rays 2
Chicago White Sox 0 - Tampa Bay Rays 5

If you had told someone not familiar with the Rays that the two pitchers from the two games so far against the Sox were the same two in the same order as had pitched last Sunday and Monday, I think you would have a pretty hard time convincing them.

Jeff Niemann, coming off a stunning major league debut last weekend, found that pitching in the bigs isn't all plain sailing on Friday, giving up 8 hits in just 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't helped by some shaky defense and a distinct lack of hitting by the Rays in a fairly meek loss. Jim Thome put the cherry on the White Sox win with a huge homerun off one of the catwalks.

Contrast that to last night. On Monday, Andy Sonnanstine had been pounded out of the game early by the Yanks. Last night the only thing the White Sox hitters were pounding was the bench, in frustration. Sonny was absolutely brilliant, tossing a complete-game, 3-hit shutout. He walked just 1, didn't allow a Sox hitter past second base, and thanks to a couple of double plays faced only 2 batters more than the minimum. It was, by some margin, the best pitching performance by a Ray so far in 2008.

He was backed up by a Rays offense that was in an odd vein of form. 12 hits in total, without ever really stringing that much together. The win was pretty much secured in the second following a bizarre play and some heads-up hustle from Jonny Gomes. Mark Buehrle had already picked CC off from first base in the first, and looked like he had done the same to Jonny in the second. Jonny had been hit by a pitch with two outs in the frame, and was caught by Buehrle's excellent move a few steps from the bag. What followed was an example of how not to execute a run-down, and how you should never give up. Jonny dashed back and forth, forcing the White Sox infield to throw three times, before executing a superb slide under and around the tag for a steal of second. It was actually the second successfully avoided run-down in two games for the Rays - Evan Longoria had successfully made it back to third after being caught too far down the line on a safety squeeze play on Friday.

Jonny's huslte, as is often the case, proved the spark the rest of the lineup needed. Eric Hinske singled him home, Jonny clapping and celebrating as he rounded third. That was followed by a single from Shawn Riggans and RBI singles from Jason Bartlett and Aki Iwamura to make the score 3-0. We added another run in the fourth, with Jonny scoring on a sacrifice fly by Riggans after leading off with a triple that missed being a homer to straight away centre by a couple of inches. Upton doubled home CC in the 7th to push the final score to 5-0.

Not only was Sonnanstine's performance a pleasure to watch, but it also meant that I got to bed the earliest I ever have after staying up to watch an evening game. Fast work by both pitchers meant that the game was finished in a Trop record of 2 hours and 2 minutes.

This afternoon Edwin Jackson gets the start, looking to bounce back from a poor outing last time and secure a series win. Over in Vero Beach, the fans will be getting their second treat of the weekend, as Matt Garza makes a rehab start, following Kaz's successful return on Friday.

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