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Sox lose, Rays head to AL championship series

October 6, 2008 8:39:30 PM PDT
B.J. Upton and the Tampa Bay Rays are headed home to get ready for the American League championship series. Worst in the majors last year, the Rays will play for a spot in the World Series after finishing off the Chicago White Sox 6-2 Monday in Game 4 of the AL playoffs.

Even an entire stadium dressed in White Sox black couldn't rally the team to a victory and a trip back to Florida.

Across the street from U.S. Cellular Field at Jimbo's bar, fans without tickets watched. Early on, despite being on the brink of elimination, they were confident.

"We won every up-against-the-wall game we ever had, we won," said Nick Giannakopoulas, Sox fan.

In the end, though, the Tampa Bay Race proved to be too much for the Sox as the string of big game wins came to a close. But fans leaving the park were philosophical.

"It was a good season. They picked us to go fourth this year. We came a long way," said Sox fan Dan Green. "It was well worth the fight."

While the season ends short of a World Series, some Sox fans still considered it a successful year.

"We had a fabulous season," said Jessie View, Sox fan. "What time was the Cubs' game at today?"

"It was a good year. They had a better season than the North Siders," laughed Sox fan Jeff Sotos.

Other fans were focused on the next season and the city's other first place team.

"We rode the wave. Here we are, so it is all good," said sox fan Allison McGowan. "It's all over. Go Bears!"

One thing Sox fans and Cubs fan consist agree on is that they like the Bears on both sides of town.

Upton homered twice, Andy Sonnanstine pitched a solid 5 2-3 innings and manager Joe Maddon's surprising Rays won 3-1 in the best-of-five series -- their first trip to the postseason. Next up, the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Angels starting Friday.

After staving off elimination several times and winning a tiebreaker for the AL Central title, the White Sox were finally knocked out.

The loss dashed Chicago's hope for a championship -- days ago, local fans were thinking the Cubs and White Sox might meet in a Windy City Classic. But the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers and now both teams are done.

Upton, the game's second batter, homered to left-center to put the Rays ahead. He went deep again in the third, driving a full-count pitch from Gavin Floyd to center, and the confident Rays had a two-run cushion.

Tampa Bay, which never won more than 70 games during its 10 previous seasons, went from 96 losses last year to 97 wins and passed the big-spending Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL East.

No longer bedeviled, the Rays won all year with young talent and improved pitching. Sonnanstine, who pitched a three-hit shutout against the White Sox at Tropicana Field in April, reversed a late-season slide that saw him go winless in his final seven starts.

He allowed two runs and three hits before J.P Howell relieved. Grant Balfour completed the four-hitter, striking out midseason addition Ken Griffey Jr. to end it.

Upton, who hit only nine homers in 531 at-bats during the regular season, also homered in Sunday's 5-3 loss. Benched by Maddon during the season for not hustling, the talented 24-year-old's power display came against a team that relied on homers all year and led the majors in long balls.

Tampa Bay increased the lead to 4-0 in the fourth when Carl Crawford walked and scored as veteran Cliff Floyd, a Chicago native, doubled to left. Dioner Navarro followed with an RBI single to finish Floyd.

Paul Konerko hit a solo homer for the White Sox in the bottom half and the white towel-waving crowd dressed in black had a reason to get excited. But Tampa Bay struck right back in the fifth against Clayton Richard as Akinori Iwamura singled and scored on Carlos Pena's single that made it 5-1.

Jermaine Dye hit a solo home run in the sixth to finish Sonnanstine.

Tampa Bay kept adding on and Pena hit his second RBI single in the seventh -- after the White Sox had intentionally walked Upton. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, apparently upset when a close pitch from Matt Thornton to Pena was called a ball, had a conversation with home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg as he headed back to the dugout after a trip to the mound.

The White Sox defeated Cleveland on the final Sunday of the season to get to a makeup game with Detroit the following day. They beat the Tigers and then Minnesota, 1-0.

After losing the first two games of this series at Tropicana Field despite leading in both, the White Sox came back home to win Sunday. And they were hoping for another three-game winning streak -- but the Rays were too good.

And now Maddon, who likes fashionable eye wear, fine wines, good books and inspirational slogans, has pushed a decade-long loser onto the doorstep of a pennant.

Earlier in the week, Maddon spotted some fans on his way to U.S. Cellular Field wearing "retro Devil Rays stuff." He'll be looking for even more signs of the team's new popularity when he honeymoons in Europe next month.

"My goal is to see someone walking around either Rome or, you know, Barcelona or somewhere with Rays gear on," he added, promising to photograph it.

Maddon pointed to the Rays' ability to bounce back after losing their final seven games before the All-Star break as a big test. And he hasn't spent a lot of time reflecting on how he has taken a team that had 10 straight losing season -- with at least 91 losses in each of those years -- to the playoffs.

"I really have not permitted myself to totally sit back and absorb all of that yet," Maddon said earlier. "But there's some smaller amounts that I may have had a little bit of a thought like that."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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