Danks helps Sox slow upstart Rays
Konerko awakens as southpaw strikes out career-high eight
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ozzie Guillen was searching through a few papers on his desk in the visiting manager's office at Tropicana Field after Thursday's series-opening 5-1 White Sox victory over the Rays when he was startled by the number of media members who had entered for his postgame chat.
"Are we in Tampa?" said Guillen, drawing a laugh from the assembled media.
Guillen played for the Rays during their dark days in 2000, and the White Sox manager joked on Thursday that there was one reporter at the time who occasionally stopped him in the parking lot to get quotes. But this four-game set stands out as something different.
It marks the first time that two teams in sole possession of first place of their respective divisions have met at Tropicana Field. The first round of this surprising heavyweight bout went to the White Sox, who, with possession of a 30-23 record, moved a season-high seven games over .500.
Good signs emerged all around for the South Siders during Thursday's two-hour, 46-minute affair.
Let's begin with first baseman Paul Konerko, whose eighth-inning blast off of the C-ring catwalk in left field ended a streak of 95 at-bats without a long ball. Konerko's sixth home run was his first since April 27 at Baltimore.
"I was so glad Paulie got the type of game he had today," said Guillen of Konerko, who joined Carlos Quentin, Orlando Cabrera and Jim Thome with two hits apiece. "We need that as a team, and he needs that as a person. He has been hitting the ball hard with no success. Now, this gets you going for the next day."
Joe Crede added his ninth home run, while Cabrera started a two-run rally in the third with a single and ended a two-run rally in the sixth off Rays starter Edwin Jackson (3-4) with a run-scoring double. Cabrera, who needs one more hit for 1,500 in his career, has been the center of controversy all week.
But the veteran shortstop seems to have made it through this tough stretch relatively unscathed. Looking more relaxed after the team's third victory in four games on this seven-game trip, Cabrera spoke of the importance of his getting going at the top of the order.
"It's about time for me to start hitting the ball well, getting hits and getting on base for the guys behind me," Cabrera said.
John Danks (4-4) earned the victory, the 10th of his Major League career, and improved to 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA against the Rays (32-22) this season. Danks allowed one run on six hits in six innings, matching a career high with eight strikeouts.
The left-hander set up his strong effort in the opening frame, allowing Akinori Iwamura's leadoff single before striking out Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena. Danks also pitched out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third, fanning Pena and inducing Evan Longoria's fielder's-choice grounder to Cabrera. But the unassuming hurler didn't look at these escape acts as anything more than doing his job.
"Unbelievable job," said Cabrera of Danks, who threw 73 of his 102 pitches for strikes. "He keeps getting better and better."
"He just knows how to pitch," said Longoria of Danks. "He throws a little cutter in that's tough on righties and uses that changeup down and away. He does a good job mixing his pitches up. It makes it tough on both righties and lefties."
Scoring twice in the third on Quentin's 48th RBI and Thome's opposite-field double, the White Sox took a lead they would not relinquish. A small crowd of 12,636 featured a large number of White Sox fans who had the chance to celebrate when Boone Logan recorded the final out on Iwamura's ground ball to second baseman Alexei Ramirez.
The Twins' victory over the Royals kept the White Sox lead at two games in the American League Central. While Thursday's contest didn't quite have the feel of playoff baseball, it certainly was a different look in St. Petersburg, to be exact, where the Rays still maintained the best record in the AL.
"I feel proud of them -- I was here when the stuff was not working," said Guillen of the Rays. "Nobody even knew we were here. I feel proud of the manager and the people who work for the Rays right now. They are doing a tremendous job and have unbelievable talent. This town will be fun for baseball for the next 10 years."
"This start wasn't any different than any other start for me," Danks added. "Deep down, though, they are winning a tough East and we are winning a tough Central. We feel like we can make a statement in this series. This team doesn't lose much here, and we feel like if we come in here and hopefully sweep the series, we will be sitting pretty going into June."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.