Vazquez's strong outing for naught
Righty strikes out 10, but White Sox manage just four hits
ST. PETERSBURG -- Two more runs for the Rays, another loss for the White Sox.
On Saturday evening, though, Tampa Bay's 2-0 victory in front of a sellout of 36,048 for Country Night at Tropicana Stadium wasn't about missed opportunities for the White Sox offense like it was on Friday. Instead, the second straight setback to the Rays dealt more with a phenomenal mound effort turned in by Scott Kazmir.
Tampa Bay's left-handed ace lowered his ERA to 1.22 with seven scoreless innings, allowing Alexei Ramirez's double in the first, Jermaine Dye's single in the fourth, Toby Hall's single in the seventh and nothing more, aside from three walks. Ramirez, along with Joe Crede -- who walked, moved up on a wild pitch and then was picked off to end the second inning -- were the only runners in seven innings to get as far as second base.
"He was wildly effective," said Crede of Kazmir, who improved to 5-1. "He was able to locate the pitches when he needed, like when he was behind in the count or had a hitter at 3-2. He made pitches when he had to with guys on base."
"Kazzy threw real well, but that's nothing new," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen added. "Every time we face him, he throws the ball good. He out-pitched us, but we continue to struggle on offense."
After Kazmir's departure, the White Sox (30-25) did manage to put together two viable scoring threats against a Rays bullpen without closer Troy Percival. Orlando Cabrera drew a one-out walk in the eighth off of Al Reyes and swiped second and third base, but reliever J.P. Howell struck out pinch-hitter Jim Thome and Carlos Quentin to strand Cabrera.
In the ninth, it was Paul Konerko's one-out walk and Crede's ensuing single putting two runners on against Dan Wheeler. The managerial wheels began to spin, with Guillen bringing in A.J. Pierzynski to hit for Hall, and Joe Maddon calling upon left-hander Trever Miller to face the left-handed-hitting Pierzynski.
Pierzynski flew out to right for the second out, but it was right-hander Grant Balfour, called up from the Minors at the start of this series, who induced Brian Anderson's game-ending fly ball to center. It sent the euphoric crowd instantly from baseball mode to music mode, with Trace Adkins' concert to follow.
"They should have cowboy night every night," said a smiling Guillen, who played for the Rays in 2000, when times weren't nearly as good. "I never thought I would see so many here watching us play. It was real nice to see all those fans. It was a great baseball game, a great game for them, and that's the way baseball should be played."
Javier Vazquez (5-4) certainly equaled Kazmir's challenge, giving up the two runs in his seven strong innings. Vazquez fanned 10, including leadoff man Akinori Iwamura three times, marking the 34th time in his career that he has reached double-digit striekouts.
B.J. Upton's run-scoring groundout and Cliff Floyd's solo home run were all the offense the Rays (34-22) would get. It was all the offense they would need, as another strong White Sox starting performance went for naught.
Vazquez admitted being upset with himself for giving up Floyd's one-out blast in the fourth. It wasn't so much about pitch selection, but rather about understanding his limited margin for error with the White Sox current offensive struggles and Kazmir on the hill.
"You know, right now we are not hitting the way we like," Vazquez said. "But other than that, I can't control anything else than what I do on the mound. I'll try to shut the opposition down, and sometimes that doesn't happen."
Before Adkins began his postgame concert, he thanked the Rays organization for making Saturday possible and congratulated the throng of fans in attendance for having a good team in their midst. The Rays are just behind the Cubs for the best record in baseball.
The White Sox are a pretty solid group in and of themselves, ending May with a 16-13 record for the month, including a 10-10 road ledger. They sat atop the American League Central for their 40th day this season, with no worse than a one-game lead over the Twins.
Without a surge from the offense, though, that lofty standing might not last. It's tough to heap extra pressure on the pitchers and even tougher for the men in charge to take.
"Really, it's tougher on me and the hitting coach than the pitchers," Guillen said. "This is driving Greg Walker crazy. It's hard to keep waiting ... If one guy was struggling, we could make some changes. But when everyone is struggling, you can't do too much.
"We aren't going to get those guys out of here. Just keep waiting and working hard, and hopefully, one day, they come out and swing the bat the way they can."
Crede, who had one of the four hits on Saturday, believes the offensive news isn't all bad . He sees a clear-cut upside, despite Thome (.207), Konerko (.206) and Nick Swisher (.201) still hovering near .200, despite the offense hitting .248 as a unit and despite the team going without a run in its last 13 innings.
"Our biggest positive is we are getting guys on base," Crede said. "It's frustrating not getting hits with guys on. We might be trying to do too much instead of just trying to accept the single. I think it's going to come around. It's a matter of getting that big hit."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.