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Danks eyes more black magic

Danks eyes more black magic

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ST. PETERSBURG -- John Danks had plenty to say about the challenge he faces against the Rays on Sunday. Four words, however, summed it up quite well.

"Here we are again," Danks said after Friday night's White Sox loss in Game 2 of their American League Division Series.

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Once again, Danks will take the mound at U.S. Cellular Field in a potential elimination game, trying to keep his team's postseason hopes alive. The atmosphere will be pretty similar, with the White Sox calling for fans to wear black for another "blackout" atmosphere.

Even the opponent will seem pretty similar to Danks, who sees a lot of the same opportunistic, pesky, speedy style in the Rays that he did in the Twins last Tuesday.

The final trick left for Danks is to pitch Chicago to another victory.

"Very similar," Danks said of the Rays and Twins. "Hopefully we can pitch the same way like we did the other day."

The experience from Tuesday's 1-0 win over Minnesota certainly gives him a boost going into this one.

"I've been riding a pretty high confidence level right now," Danks said. "I feel good going into the game. Obviously, it's a new game, anything can happen. But experiencing the atmosphere and pitching well, I think it helped. We'll see how much it helps on Sunday, but I feel really good going into the game."

Danks' eight scoreless innings over the Twins on short rest came at the tail end of the three White Sox wins over three days against three different clubs, and it essentially pitched them into the postseason. This time, Danks will have to start a similar roll if the White Sox are to pull out this series and keep their magical season alive. If he can somehow quiet Tampa Bay's offense, he could well be a tone-setter.

His confidence is rubbing off on teammates.

"He went out there and did a tremendous job for us the first time his back was up against the wall," outfielder Nick Swisher said Saturday. "And there's no doubt in my mind he can go out there and do it again."

Tampa Bay is batting .338 as a team in this series, including 10 hits over seven innings against lefty Mark Buehrle in Game 2. Danks held the Rays to a .219 average in three meetings with them this season, two of them victories. Evan Longoria, 4-for-7 with two homers through two games of this series, is just 1-for-6 off Danks.

None of those at-bats, of course, came with the same pressure that Danks will face against the Rays on Sunday. But Tuesday's performance showed how Danks can handle the pressure of win-or-go-home games.

He felt like he had it in him, even if the stats suggested otherwise.

"I never had an opportunity to prove it [before]," Danks said. "The first opportunity I got, I did well. But Tampa Bay doesn't care anything about that game. They don't care how I did, and what I did in that game doesn't help in this game. Obviously, being in that atmosphere helps, but I still have to go out there and make pitches and get the job done."

Three of Danks' last four starts have seen the 23-year-old throw six or more scoreless innings, including six against the Tigers on Sept. 14 and seven at Kansas City a week later. The problem was that the exception came on a pretty big stage when the Indians roughed him up for seven runs over four-plus innings on the final Friday of the regular season.

Game 3: Just the facts
U.S. Cellular Field, 3:07 p.m. CT
Rays starter: RHP Matt Garza
2008: 11-9, 3.70 ERA
2008 on road: 4-6, 4.53 ERA
2008 vs. White Sox: Did not face White Sox in 2008
Career vs. White Sox: 1-1, 4.97 ERA
Career postseason: First appearance
White Sox starter: LHP John Danks
2008: 12-9, 3.32 ERA
2008 at home: 5-6, 3.66 ERA
2008 vs. Rays: 2-1, 1.86 ERA
Career vs. Rays: 3-1, 2.96 ERA
Career postseason: First appearance
Rays lead series, 2-0. Twenty-seven of the 32 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the Division Series have advanced.
Game 1: Rays 6, White Sox 4
Game 2: Rays 6, White Sox 2
Did You Know? Danks generally had better stats on the road this season (7-3, 2.92) than at U.S. Cellular Field (5-6, 3.66). However, opponents hit just .238 against him at home, 18 points lower than his road average.

That's what made Tuesday's performance into a statement game.

"That kid's a man," manager Ozzie Guillen said Friday afternoon. "I think, to me, it's one of the best games I've ever seen played in that ballpark. I mean, he handled himself so well. We never thought that game would end up being 1-0, and I have every confidence in this kid."

Between that performance and the chance to counteract Tampa Bay's left-handed hitters, Guillen didn't hesitate to start Danks in Game 3, flipping him with Gavin Floyd in the rotation order. Floyd will start Game 4 on Monday, if it's necessary.

"The reason I did it," Guillen said, "is because I wanted a lefty against them. That's it. I wanted to se them face another lefty."

The Rays put some dents into the notion of strength in left-handed pitching against them with their success against Buehrle on Friday. Danks, however, doesn't want to change his aggressive approach.

The White Sox, meanwhile, don't want to change their approach with him.

"We tried to make it as easy on him as possible," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said of Tuesday's game, "tried to let him have as much fun as possible, tried not to make the situation too big. And we'll try to do the same thing tomorrow.

"Everybody knows what's at stake. Everybody knows what's going on. It's not like he's immune to the situation, but we'll try to get him to relax, try to make him have fun and try to make it as normal as possible."

Unlike Buehrle, Danks will have the home-field advantage and slower surface in his favor, even if it hasn't statistically worked for him this season. While he's 7-3 with a 2.92 ERA on the road this year, he's 5-6 with a 3.66 ERA at home. Lost in that split, however, is the fact that opponents hit just .238 against Danks at home compared with .256 on the road.

Part of the explanation is run support. Three of Danks' six losses at U.S. Cellular Field have seen the White Sox score one run or fewer behind him. Four other times, Danks has taken no-decisions at home despite throwing six or more innings with two runs or fewer.

In that regard, Jim Thome's homer saved Danks from more hard luck Tuesday. Realistically, however, Danks saved the White Sox season, so that's the least they could do in return.

Now, they need him again.

"This is fun," Danks said. "Obviously, we didn't want to be in this situation, but you've got to play the cards you're dealt."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["division_series" ] }
{"content":["division_series" ] }
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