ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -Young, resilient and a victory away from the American League championship series. The Rays are
breezing through the playoffs, much as they did during the regular season.
settled down after a shaky start,
hit a go-ahead, two-run homer and the AL East champions beat the
Chicago White Sox
6-2 Friday night for a 2-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.
''This is just awesome,'' said
, who singled in a run.
Giving many fans a close-up look of the formula that transformed Tampa Bay from a last-place team to a power, the Rays rallied
for the second straight day and remained undefeated in their young postseason history.
''I like the attitude. I like the way we're going about our business,'' manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rays go for a sweep when the series resumes Sunday in Chicago. Tampa Bay's
(12-9), trying to seal a matchup against World Series champion Boston or the
Los Angeles Angels
in the next round.
''We're a relaxed bunch,'' Baldelli said. ''We chill out in the clubhouse. We have fun. That's what got us here.''
Of the 35 teams to fall behind 2-0 in the division series before this year, just five have come back to advance, according
to the Elias Sports Bureau.
But the Rays, who won 97 games this year after finishing with the worst record in the majors a year ago, aren't taking anything
''These are the
Chicago White Sox
. They're a veteran team. They can come back and win three easy if you let them,'' pitcher J.P. Howell said. ''We gotta go
like we have been.''
It's been a bleak October for both Chicago teams. The Cubs lost their first two NL playoff games at home to the
Los Angeles Dodgers
''We're against the wall,''
said. ''We've got to fight like a cat, and now it's a must-win game.''
Chicago started quickly, scoring twice in the first on
's RBI single and
's sacrifice fly, but Kazmir struck out
with the bases loaded to end the inning after three straight foul balls.
's run-scoring single off
in the second began the comeback following a two-base throwing error by Ramirez at second. Iwamura gave Tampa Bay a 3-2 lead
with a drive into the left-center field stands off Buehrle in the fifth.
''I knew it was gone,'' Iwamura said.
The Rays added three runs in the eighth, when B.J. Upton tripled and scored on
's single, which chased Buehrle. Baldelli's run-scoring single against
made it 5-2, and Navarro followed with a RBI double off
At 24, Kazmir is the youngest member of Tampa Bay's rotation and already the franchise's career victories leader. But high
pitch counts also have been an issue for the two-time All-Star, who threw 37 in the first inning.
''It was a battle the whole time,'' Kazmir said. ''It was just me not really trusting myself.''
with a pitch, walked
and gave up a single to
that loaded the bases with no outs in the first - hardly the start Kazmir was looking for after giving up four homers in two
of his last three regular-season outings.
''Be patient. That was my thought,'' Maddon said. ''It's really important that we get him going. ... If he was able to get
through that, I thought he might be able to settle in; and he did.''
Chicago threatened again in the second and fourth but couldn't score. The
stranded eight runners through five innings, allowing the Rays to stay close until Iwamura's opposite-field homer put Tampa
The sellout crowd of 35,257 at Tropicana Field stood and chanted ''Aki! Aki! Aki!'' until Iwamura poked his head out of the
dugout for a curtain call. He homered once in 192 at-bats against left-handed pitching during the regular season.
Kazmir allowed two runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings, leaving after Uribe's leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt in the
sixth. Maddon brought in
, who had a heated exchange with the Rays reliever before striking out in a crucial situation during Tampa Bay's 6-4 win in
Balfour got the better of Cabrera again, but this time without the dramatics of Thursday when the players shouted at each
other after Balfour said something to himself on the mound and the
shortstop mistakenly thought he was talking to him.
Cabrera grounded to second base, moving Uribe to third, before Balfour escaped the jam by getting Swisher on a flyout.
Tampa Bay's bullpen worked 3 2-3 scoreless innings, with J.P. Howell and
''They're here for a reason,'' Guillen said. ''They're here because they can pitch and they catch the ball. They will take
any little thing and take advantage of their speed and they don't strike out much. When you have that combination ... you
can be anything in the big leagues.''
Notes: Thome, in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 when he was with Cleveland, was 0-for-13 against Kazmir before
his RBI single. He's driven in 37 runs in 57 postseason games. ... U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger threw out the ceremonial
first pitch. ... The Rays played without slugger
, who had slightly blurred vision in his left eye. He scratched his cornea at home Wednesday and was removed from Game 1 after