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07/22/09 12:50 AM ET

White Sox unable to reward Richard

Chicago closer Jenks trying to work through recent slump

CHICAGO -- White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper bristled at the thought that Clayton Richard's start against the Rays on Tuesday was a "do-or-die" situation in regard to maintaining his place in the starting rotation.

With no quality starts in his last eight trips to the mound, though, Richard had to at the least make a positive impression in Game 2 of this four-game series at U.S. Cellular Field.

Richard certainly did, but the White Sox one-run lead died in the ninth inning behind usually stellar closer Bobby Jenks (2-3). The burly right-hander allowed the first four Tampa Bay hitters to reach base and turned the White Sox advantage into a 3-2 victory for the Rays (52-42) in a matter of five hitters.

Jenks has struggled dating back to July 10 at Minnesota, allowing six earned runs on 10 hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings. It's a struggle Jenks acknowledged in a statement through a White Sox media relations representative after the tough setback.

"I'm going through a rough patch," Jenks said. "I'll figure it out."

Unfortunately for Richard and the White Sox (48-45), Tuesday was not the night for such enlightenment.

Jason Bartlett opened the ninth with a single, and Jenks then hit Evan Longoria with a pitch. Ben Zobrist followed with a single to center that loaded the bases, and Jenks walked Pat Burrell to force home the tying run. Carlos Pena's sacrifice fly proved to be the game-winner.

Tuesday's struggles were similar to Monday's walk on the wild side for Jenks, although he loaded the bases with two outs while protecting the one-run advantage in Monday's instance. He struck out Bartlett swinging on a 3-2 slider to secure that particular victory.

"I wish I would have had [a hit] last night," Bartlett said. "But when I was up there, I wasn't thinking about last night. I was just thinking I want to jump on something that I can hit. I don't want him to get ahead and then start throwing those sliders."

"He was just missing his spots," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of Jenks. "We tried to throw a sinker to Bartlett, and he threw it high. He hit Longoria. He threw a sinker to Zobrist and missed over the plate. His stuff is still the same; it hasn't changed."

This blown save was especially tough, starting with the fact that the Tigers held off the Mariners for a 9-7 victory and moved two games ahead of the White Sox in the American League Central. But the South Siders also were unable to take total advantage of Richard's best start as a Major Leaguer, marking his first outing since lasting four batters into the second inning against the Indians on July 9.

The big left-hander was masterful, allowing one run on four hits in a career-high eight innings. He struck out seven and walked two while throwing 71 of his 116 pitches for strikes.

Success followed a simple formula for Richard -- attack the strike zone and put the pitches where he wanted.

"Every level, it works out that way," said Richard, who credited strong defensive plays from third baseman Gordon Beckham and first baseman Paul Konerko for putting him at ease early. "Get ahead, and things go your way."

"Their guy was really good tonight, too," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon, discussing Richard. "I know righties have been beating up on him, but he was real sharp with his fastball. His slider was good. [It was] just a well-pitched game on both sides."

Jeff Niemann (9-4), the starter and winning pitcher for the Rays, was just about as good as Richard, aside from one extra blip in the fifth inning. The chief culprit in this two-run rally was Beckham, who had three straight hits to raise his average above .300, before grounding out against closer J.P. Howell (10th save) to end the game.

Beckham drove home A.J. Pierzynski with the game-tying run in the fifth with a double down the right-field line, and Scott Podsednik pushed home Chris Getz with the go-ahead run on a grounder to second baseman Joe Dillon. The problem for the White Sox was leaving the bases loaded with one out in the seventh, after Podsednik and Alexei Ramirez both struck out, and getting Beckham doubled off second base in the third on Podsednik's bunt after he led off with a double.

"We had some chances to add on and put that game away, and we didn't do it," Pierzynski said. "That's the thing that's frustrating. We had chances to make it 3-1, 4-1 or 5-1, and didn't get it done."

"Great pitching duel," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, giving the credit to the men on the mound, who each worked eight innings. "It was just outstanding. Unfortunately, we went to the ninth inning with the best guy we have, and he couldn't get it done."

Don't think for a second that Jenks' little funk has put some doubt in the minds of his teammates -- quite the contrary, actually.

They have the utmost confidence in the two-time All-Star, a student of his craft who, as he said, will figure out what has gone wrong recently. That strong belief makes Jenks' third blown save in 25 chances a little easier to digest on this given night.

"You will see him tomorrow or the next day if we need it," said Guillen, regarding Jenks, who allowed his first earned run in 12 career appearances against Tampa Bay. "He's my closer."

"He's been good for us for a long time," Pierzynski said. "And he'll be good for a long time to come."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.