Cheers erupted at U.S. Cellular Field in the top of the eighth inning Friday, the kind of thing that happens in September in a playoff race.
“I thought the Bears scored,” a smiling White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I knew they weren’t playing so I knew it was the Tigers score.”
For 25,264 fans, the Tigers losing to the Minnesota Twins got even better moments later with the Sox completed a 3-1 comeback victory against the Tampa Bay Rays to move within a game of the American League Central leaders.
“When I heard the crowd cheer, I knew something was going on,” said Alex Rios, the hitting hero with a homer, RBI and two runs scored.
“Hopefully what we did tonight can get the momentum going and get us going,” said Rios, who gave the Sox a 2-1 lead in the fourth with his career-high 25th homer. “It’s good we’re just one game back and anything can happen. We just have to play the same way we did tonight.”
It was Sox pitching that carried the night, with Gavin Floyd (11-11) persevering through five innings, holding the Rays a Ben Zobrist first inning home run and one other single in the second by Luke Scott. Jesse Crain was strong through 2 2/3 more, giving up only a single to Jeff Keppinger before Matt Thornton, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal and Addison Reed (29th save) finished.
Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson (9-11) gave up only two earned runs but took the loss.
“We’ve played games like that all the time, but Gavin did a great job, and I can’t say enough about Jesse,” Ventura said. “He looked strong enough to do it.
“We finally got a couple [timely] hits and guys came across [home plate.]”
The outcome ended the Rays’ eight-game winning streak and took a toll of their pursuit of the American League’s second wild card.
“Jealous” was how Ventura described his feelings about the Rays’ streak, but by the end of the evening the Sox were feeling good about themselves again after snapping a three-game skid of their own.
With five games remaining, cheers and tears both remain in the realm of possibility.
“You’ve got to treat it as any other game and go out there and continue to have the same mentality, the same approach,” said Floyd, who will have one more start in the final three-game series in Cleveland. “You try to let your players field for you and try to put zeros up there. If you put more emphasis on it, it’s not going to help you out.”
The Sox still hit only 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, but good pitching made the difference.
“That’s how the playoffs are most of the time,” Paul Konerko said of the low-scoring contest. “In that sense, the urgency and what’s going on out there definitely feel [like playoffs]. We’re playing a team who is desperate to win too. It’s equal on both sides.
“We’ve been playing these [kind of] games for a while now–weeks. They are draining, but everybody is dialed in and we are going to finish it to the end and see what happens.”
Rios said the final five games will take mental toughness.
“It’s mentally exhausting. It’s like we’re playing in the playoffs right now and it’s been like this for quite a bit. But you know what? It might be good because we’re getting used to it. If we make it–and I think we’re going to make it–it’s going to help us because our minds are going to be in that mindset. It’s going to be good.”