Cliff Floyd produced the greatest swing for Tampa Bay (33-22), leading off the ninth inning against reliever Scott Linebrink, with the game deadlocked at one. This is the same Linebrink who has been as good as any reliever in baseball during the month of May, carrying a stretch of 13 1/3 innings of scoreless work out of the bullpen this month into Florida.
Floyd took the first pitch from Linebrink for a called strike. He then launched the next offering over the fence just to the right of center, with his fourth home run producing the Rays' fifth walk-off win this season. The blast sailed a few feet over the leaping attempt of DeWayne Wise, who entered as a pinch-runner in the ninth.
"He made a good effort to try to catch that ball," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of Wise.
"Linebrink's a fastball pitcher," Floyd added. "If you go up there looking for anything else, you set yourself up for failure."
While Linebrink gets tagged with Friday's loss, putting his record at 2-1 and the American League Central-leading White Sox at 30-24, it was the offense's lack of production against Tampa Bay starter James Shields that ultimately spelled out doom on this evening. Granted, Shields stands as one of the stingier young hurlers in the game, exiting after six innings with a 3.24 ERA.
But scoring opportunities were not the problem against the right-hander, who allowed Alexei Ramirez's second home run among his seven hits, while walking one and striking out six. In the second inning, Jermaine Dye singled and Jim Thome walked to open the frame. One out later, Joe Crede singled to load the bases, only to have Swisher's double play end the threat.
Ramirez and Orlando Cabrera began the third with singles, Cabrera's hit going down as the 1,500th of his career. It was Carlos Quentin's double play that snuffed out the rally in this instance.
For the night, the White Sox finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. This lack of production through prime scoring moments is where Friday's loss truly falls.
"Early in the innings, we got to Shields," Swisher said. "We got guys on base but couldn't knock them in. I wish I had an answer. We just have to keep battling, keep grinding it out and see where it takes us in the end."
"We need the offense to start picking it up and help the pitching staff," Guillen added. "It's hard to win games when you are up by only one or two every day."
Jose Contreras was as dominant as Shields, leaving after seven innings, meaning all but one of his starts this season have lasted at least six. The right-hander allowed one run on five hits, striking out five and walking three, giving him seven quality starts this season. Tampa's lone run against him came home on B.J. Upton's two-out single in the third.
Contreras wouldn't blame the offense for its lack of early support and neither did Linebrink. In fact, Linebrink said these are the taut contests the White Sox relievers have come to expect, knowing there isn't much room for error when they take to the mound.
On Friday, Linebrink's margin for mistake was nonexistent. His one bad pitch stopped the White Sox from producing their third straight victory and dropped them to 3-2 on this seven-game road trip. Then again, it wasn't even close to a mistake in Linebrink's mind.
"I made my pitch," Linebrink said. "I actually shook to it, a sinker down and away. I thought it was a little up but A.J. [Pierzynski] said it was down. [Floyd] went down and got it. It was the pitch I wanted to do. I executed so I can't feel bad about that.
"Stuff like that will happen. You just prefer it would happen with a three-run lead."