White Sox cruise while Rays’ bats snooze: Chicago 9-2 over Tampa Bay

If things looked bad in the first, they got a lot worse for Niemann in the top of the third. After getting leadoff man Mark Teahen to go down swinging for the first out, Niemann gave up another bunt single to Pierre, who promptly stole second and scored on Vizquel’s double to the wall in right. Carlos Quentin became Niemann’s second hit batter of the evening, taking his free bag and moving to third on Paul Konerko’s RBI-single to right; Vizquel scored on the base hit. Quentin scored on Adam Dunn’s single, followed by Alex Rios loading the bases with a walk. Pierzynski picked up an RBI on a sac fly to center, scoring Konerko and putting a Texas-sized hurtin’ on Niemann in an inning that saw all nine Chicago hitters step to the plate.

“It’s just something I’m going through right now,” Niemann said, post-game. “I’m trying to put some good starts together but it didn’t happen tonight.

“The way the team is playing right now, all I wanted to do tonight was go out there and keep the momentum rolling. And I give up a big inning like that definitely halted the momentum.”

Tampa Bay got a little bit of the ol’ timely hitting in the bottom of the fourth. Zobrist led off with a base hit that was erased when Upton grounded into a 5-4-3 double play. Kotchman took first on free pass from Floyd and moved to second when Jaso followed with a base hit. Brignac became Floyd’s second hit batter of the evening to load the bases. Sam Fuld stepped to the plate and resumed his recent role as the Rays’ resident rockstar, cracking a single to right to score Jaso and Kotchman and cut the lead to 5-2. Johnny Damon couldn’t keep it going in his first game back, as he struck out looking to squash the rally.

The White Sox tacked on another in the top of the fifth. Konerko led off with a double to left field; Niemann got the hook two outs later in favor of Cesar Ramos, who yielded a base hit to Pierzynski to bring Konerko home to score.

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But, wait, there’s more! More runs against for the Rays, that is. Two in the sixth and another in the eighth, to be more specific. With two runners aboard on free passes (Teahen walked and Pierre was hit by a pitch), Quentin hit a two-out double in the sixth to score both men. Teahen walked again to open the eighth, moving to second on Vizquel’s base hit and scoring on a single by Konerko.

The Rays didn’t necessarily play poorly in this one, they just didn’t play exceptionally well against a hungry and frustrated White Sox team. Had Niemann offered a better start this one may have ended differently but it’s a fair bet that Chicago’s persistence at the plate would have paid off against most starting pitchers.

“My take away is six-out-of-eight on this homestand,” Maddon said. “You win two four-game series against very good competition, and that’s awesome. Based on where we had been to where we are right now, I love it. I think our guys have done a great job on this homestand. This is where we need to play well, and we did.”

The Rays head back on the road for a week, taking a trip to the Great White North to visit the Toronto Blue Jays before stopping in Minnesota for three with the Twins. Jeremy Hellickson (1-2, 4.5 ERA) is scheduled to face off against Jo Jo Reyes (0-2, 6.75); first pitch is scheduled for 7:07 p.m.

Follow Kevin Tall on Twitter: @KevinTall

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Kevin Tall
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The Chicago White Sox would play the doormat no longer at Tropicana Field in this series; they avoided a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays by jumping on starting RHP Jeff Niemann. Game four of the Chicago series didn’t start off the way the Rays would have liked. Niemann—not his sharpest by any means—fell to 0-3 on the year, roughed up for 6 runs on 6 hits in his 4 and 2/3 innings pitched; in his four starts this season, he has gotten only a single run of support in each.

“He’s still not back where we need him to be, but I think he’s on the verge,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon. “He’s not far off despite what you may think. …With him it’s about sharpness, command overall with his pitches, and it’s just not there yet.”

It seems Juan Pierre finally realized it doesn’t pay to try to go long against Tampa Bay; having previously fallen victim to several highlight-reel catches by Rays outfielders, he bunted his way aboard to lead off the bottom of the first and advanced to third base on a throwing error by third baseman Felipe Lopez. Pierre scored easily on Omar Vizquel’s ground out to second, giving the White Sox their first lead of the series and marking only the second inning of the series the Rays did NOT lead; Wednesday’s scoreless first was the only other to that point.

The Rays had an opportunity to remedy that situation, but the failed to get the timely hit they needed. Felipe Lopez led off the bottom of the second inning with a single and a steal at the expense of Chicago starting pitcher Gavin Floyd. Ben Zobrist followed that with a walk but was thrown out at second on B.J. Upton’s fielder’s choice; Lopez moved to third on the play. Upton atoned by stealing second with Casey Kotchman at the plate before Floyd dinged Kotchman to load the bases and bring John Jaso to the plate with one out. The Rays catcher hit a soft grounder to Floyd, who went for the force at home; White Sox backstop A.J. Pierzynski completed the 1-2-3 double play by getting Jaso at first.

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