ST. PETERSBURG -- The White Sox have been in this sort of somewhat dire predicament before.
Make that, they've been here many, many times before during the month of September, as they battled the Twins for the American League Central title and a berth in the AL Division Series opposite Tampa Bay.
Thursday's 6-4 loss to the Rays before a raucous crowd of 35,041 at Tropicana Field, cowbells fully in tow, left the White Sox down 1-0 to one of baseball's best stories during the 2008 season. Down, that is, but far from out in this best-of-five competition.
"We lost a game," said shortstop Orlando Cabrera, after the White Sox suffered their first playoff setback since dropping a 3-2 decision to the Angels in Game 1 of the ALCS on Oct. 11, 2005, breaking a string of eight straight postseason wins. The White Sox also fell to 4-17 on turf this season. "We've got to take it tomorrow with a good attitude."
"It's playoff baseball, and nobody feels sorry for you," added White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of his team's early hole in this opening playoff series. "We just need to find a way to win games, and tomorrow is another day."
In reality, the day at hand didn't look all that bad for the White Sox. Evan Longoria launched a solo home run off of Javier Vazquez leading off the second, Longoria's first of two long balls, but the White Sox answered back in dramatic fashion against James Shields during the top of the third.
Alexei Ramirez and Pierzynski singled, moved up one base on Juan Uribe's sacrifice bunt and stayed put on Cabrera's popup to second baseman Akinori Iwamura. But Dewayne Wise bailed out the White Sox, the same Wise who was all set to play in the Atlantic League for Somerset back in late February, by launching a 2-2 pitch from Shields into the right-field stands for his first postseason home run and a 3-1 lead. That advantage didn't last long, as Tampa Bay rallied for three in the bottom of the frame, capped off by Longoria's second home run in two at-bats.
Longoria joined Gary Gaetti (1987 Twins) as the only player to hit two home runs in his first two playoff at-bats. The White Sox didn't seem interested in the history lesson.
"We have to pitch better. That's the bottom line."
-- A.J. Pierzynski
"That's a guy you want to stay away from," said Guillen of Longoria. "This kid's going to be an outstanding ballplayer. You see him on the field, and you know he's going to be a great player."
"I throw a lot of fastballs on the first pitch, so they know that and they're aggressive," Vazquez added. "Sometimes you get caught on that and give up a home run. The second pitch was just a terrible pitch, a hanging curveball. Just a bad pitch."
Vazquez made a few too many mistakes as the White Sox Game 1 starter, struggling mightily for his fourth straight start. Tampa Bay knocked Vazquez from the game with a two-run fifth, leaving the right-hander with four straight trips to the mound in which he has been unable to get through five frames. In those starts, Vazquez has pitched 16 1/3 innings and allowed 24 earned runs on 26 hits.
Longest postseason win streaks
Won last 3 games of 1998 ALDS, swept WS; swept 1999 ALDS, won first 2 games of ALCS
Won final game of 1937 WS, swept 1938-39 WS, won first game of 1941 WS
Won final game of 1975 WS; swept NLCS, WS in 1976
Won final four games of 2004 ALCS, swept WS
Won final four games of 2005 ALCS, swept WS
Won the final three games of the 1921 World Series, tied Game 2 of the 1922 WS but did not lose in the series, and won the first game of the 1923 WS
Carrying a tag throughout the media of a pitcher who couldn't succeed in the big game prior to Thursday, Vazquez did not help his cause.
"You need to get the job done, and I didn't get it done," said Vazquez, who gave up six runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings, striking out six and walking one. "It's tough right now. By far, this is the toughest stretch of my career, and I have no explanation."
This playoff battle was not without a bit of controversy. With the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, Tampa Bay reliever Grant Balfour threw a slider that tailed a little bit outside to Orlando Cabrera, who kicked at the dirt after the pitch and then said something to Balfour, who came off the mound while shouting at the White Sox shortstop. Home-plate umpire Joe West quickly stepped between the two and restored order.
Balfour eventually struck out Cabrera swinging, pumping his first into his glove and yelling something toward Cabrera. The move drew an angry reaction from the White Sox bench, with Tampa Bay bench coach Dave Martinez quickly coming out of the dugout to answer the South Siders' commentary. Martinez looked to be targeting first-base coach Omer Munoz with his gestures, with Munoz filling in once again for Harold Baines, who has been sidelined due to ulcer problems.
No further movement took place, aside from the talk. And the actual Cabrera strikeout, leaving the tying run on first, held far greater significance than any of the histrionics.
"Things like that happen," Cabrera said. "We can't be just thinking about one inning."
"When we went up, 3-1, we knew it wasn't enough," Wise added. "In games like this, you have to keep going out there and try to score runs."
All is certainly not lost for the White Sox. The winner of Game 1 in the history of the ALDS has won the particular series on just 12 of 26 occasions.
Resiliency has been a trademark of this 2008 team. The White Sox have to draw on that quality again on Friday night behind Mark Buehrle, trying to avoid an 0-2 hole going home for Game 3 on Sunday.
"Well, we have to win tomorrow. You know what I mean?" Guillen said. "It's not a do-or-die thing, but I'd rather go home with one win, than go against the wall. This ballclub was against the wall a lot of times and we pulled it out."
"We have to pitch better," Pierzynski added. "That's the bottom line."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.