CHICAGO -- If Tampa Bay's 3-2 victory over the White Sox on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular Field was indeed Jake Peavy's last home start in Chicago, well ...
The veteran right-hander and potential free agent after the 2012 season wasn't giving that concept much thought. Peavy was too busy making one of his best starts as a member of the White Sox, at a time when the team needed him most.
Peavy put the White Sox in position to claim a must-win contest between two teams fighting for their respective playoff lives. Unfortunately for the White Sox, the offense didn't really cooperate.
So, when Evan Longoria connected on Brett Myers' pitch with one out in the ninth inning for his 14th homer, the red-hot Rays (86-70) claimed their eighth straight victory over a host squad that had been in first place for 117 days. The loss was the eighth in nine games for the White Sox (82-74) and dropped them two games behind the Tigers (84-72) in the American League Central. Detroit finished off a four-game home sweep of the Royals with a walk-off, 5-4 victory at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon.
With only six games remaining and the Tigers' magic number to clinch sitting at 5, the White Sox realize their playoff hopes have reached dire straits.
"I believe anybody will tell you we need to win out. And that starts with winning tomorrow," Peavy said. "You can't look ahead of yourself."
"We can't control what the other team does, with Detroit. They could win out for all we know," White Sox captain Paul Konerko said. "But let's try to win out ourselves and see what happens."
This third straight home loss ended when Rays closer Fernando Rodney (46th save) struck out Adam Dunn with pinch-runner Orlando Hudson on first as the tying run. The best White Sox scoring chances came well before the final at-bat.
James Shields, who started the night in search of his 16th victory and has a 2.21 ERA over his last 11 starts, briefly lost his control during the fourth and fifth innings and loaded the bases in both frames with nobody out. In the fourth, Shields walked Dunn and Konerko and then gave up a single to Alex Rios. In the fifth, Alejandro De Aza opened with a single, Kevin Youkilis was hit with a 1-2 pitch and Dunn drew another walk.
But from those two rallies, the White Sox managed one run in each inning. That run in the fourth came when Dayan Viciedo was hit with a one-out pitch, after A.J. Pierzynski struck out, only to have Alexei Ramirez pop out and Gordon Beckham line out to left to leave the bases loaded.
Konerko's first-pitch double-play grounder in the fifth scored the tying run, but Rios struck out to leave Youkilis at third. Shields' name would be found on the short list of elite AL pitchers, but a team that has scored 21 runs in its last nine games missed a chance for an early statement.
"You've gotta try to get guys home," Pierzynski said. "But their pitcher is pretty good. He's been dealing. We got a couple of runs out of it, probably could have had more, but at the same time, the guy made good pitches. Give him credit."
"Jake's pitching great and he's giving everything you need, really," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "Tonight, you don't execute and you're not going to win, it's that simple. We had opportunities, even late, and we didn't do the fundamental things to win the game."
The White Sox put two more runners on in the seventh, via a Youkilis single that knocked Shields from the game and Jake McGee's two-out walk issued to Konerko. But Rios lined out to right to end the frame.
Pierzynski opened the eighth with a single to left against reliever Joel Peralta (2-6), and Dewayne Wise was sent to the plate to pinch-hit for Viciedo and lay down a sacrifice bunt. Wise failed in one attempt, eventually striking out, followed by Ramirez's flyout to center with pinch-runner Jordan Danks going on the pitch.
Danks didn't re-touch second base after passing it and going back to first, and the Rays recorded the third out on appeal to second-base umpire Alfonso Marquez.
Meanwhile, Peavy simply was dealing over 7 1/3 innings. He made two mistakes during that time, yielding a leadoff double to Ben Zobrist in the fourth and a leadoff homer to Luke Scott in the fifth. Zobrist came around to score on Carlos Pena's sacrifice fly.
Over 117 pitches and 75 strikes, Peavy gave up just four hits. He struck out six and walked one. But the man with the $22 million club option or $4 million buyout for the 2013 season, who could very well return to the South Side even with the option being declined, still wanted to do a little bit more as the White Sox run out of bounce-back tomorrows.
"Obviously, tonight hurt, and we understand that, we understand the mathematics and we're running out of time," Peavy said. "Hopefully, Gavin [Floyd] and the boys can put a little bit better effort -- I shouldn't say that, hopefully the results, because the effort was there on all sides of the ball tonight. It just wasn't meant to be."
"All year that's the kind of game that's kind of put us behind the eight ball a little bit, where we didn't win it," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The offense kind of disappears and the pitching stays in there, but eventually something would happen later negative in the game. We turned it around tonight."