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08/23/08 8:51 PM ET

Perfect game goes south for Sox

Vazquez retires 17 straight, but bullpen falters in loss to Rays

CHICAGO -- Same story, different day.

The White Sox found themselves leading in the fourth inning Saturday, just as they had the day before, but the Rays came battling back, beating the South Siders, 5-3, at U.S. Cellular Field.

It was the second straight game that the Rays came back to win, but what made it even more frustrating for the White Sox is that Javier Vazquez had carried a perfect game into the sixth inning.

Vazquez retired the first 17 batters he faced before giving up a double to Jason Bartlett in the sixth. After Bartlett came around to score, the hopes of a shutout -- not to mention a perfect game -- were long gone.

Vazquez maintained a 3-1 lead into the eighth, but gave up two singles and a walk to load the bases without recording an out. Then for the second straight night, it was up to the bullpen, which allowed four runs to score, including the three runners inherited from Vazquez.

"This is a tough game," Vazquez said. "That's one of the toughest games for me in my career that I've lost. Just being ahead like that, and all of a sudden, boom, we lost."

It was up to Matt Thornton to get the White Sox out of that jam, but the left-hander couldn't get Akinori Iwamura to put the ball in play. A 13-pitch at-bat turned into a nightmare when Thornton threw ball four to walk in a run. B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena singled and Thornton was relieved, still with no outs in the inning.

"[Iwamura] battled," White Sox catcher Toby Hall said. "We were trying to do fastballs down and away, and if he gets a base hit the other way, then so be it, but we obviously weren't trying to walk him in that situation."

"The difference between those two games between the Rays and the White Sox was the bullpen," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "That's it. Their bullpen held on and we couldn't the last two days.

There may not have been a day when the White Sox missed injured reliever Scott Linebrink more than Saturday.

"We don't have Linebrink, [and] we're not the same ballclub," Guillen said. "There's no doubt about that. It's something you have to wear."

Vazquez was visibly upset in the dugout as the runs crossed home plate in the eighth, and he couldn't quite pinpoint what went wrong for him in that pivotal inning.

"A few hits here and there, nothing happened," Vazquez said. "I threw the ball well. Bad luck, that's it.

"I had good stuff. I've had other games with the same stuff, I guess. Just throwing strikes, being aggressive and that's about it."

For Vazquez, at no point did the possibility of throwing a no-hitter enter into the equation.

"I never think about a no-hitter," he said. "I've had some close calls, I guess, but I don't pitch to throw no-hitters. I pitch to win. That only happens to a few guys in their career, so I never try to do that or think about it."

The Rays have now won five games in a row against the White Sox, and Saturday's victory clinches the series in their favor. Strangely enough, the White Sox have outscored the Rays, 31-30, this season, but have won only three of the teams' nine meetings.

Jermaine Dye smacked two solo home runs off Rays starter Scott Kazmir. The White Sox mustered only two other hits.

For an offense which had outscored opponents, 78-14, over its previous nine games, the White Sox offense hasn't looked anything like its old self.

"You got to credit [the Rays]," Jim Thome said. "They've played well all year long. They've pitched solid and they get timely hits when they need it.

"They got a great team. They battled. They pitched well. There's a reason they're where they're at. The bottom line is that it's a long season. It is frustrating because you want to do well and play well, but we've got to move on and stay positive."

The White Sox now trail the Twins by one game in the American League Central, pending the outcome of Minnesota's game on the West Coast. If the Twins win, the White Sox will trail by 1 1/2 games. The two teams haven't had more than one game between them since July 30.

"The bullpen didn't do what they always do," Guillen said. "[If Vazquez] keeps throwing like that, he's going to win a lot of the games he's got left. But I think the bullpen, the last few games, they fell.

"[The bullpen] is what it is. We've got to use it the best way we can, and hopefully those guys respond."

David Just is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.