Playing on head groundskeeper Roger Bossard's immaculately manicured natural grass was like returning to a safe haven for the host White Sox.
Cowbells and their constant clang, featured prominently during the first two games of this American League Division Series at the home of the Rays, were replaced by black-clad White Sox fans waving white towels in some sort of synchronized cheering.
And the two losses suffered by the White Sox in St. Petersburg on Thursday and Friday, leaving them one game away from postseason elimination, turned into a 5-3 victory for the South Siders with the combined help from all the creature comforts. There also was one more interesting change that allowed the White Sox to stay alive for Game 4 of this competition on Monday, with Gavin Floyd set to throw the first pitch.
It was the team with a Major League-best 235 home runs that lost the battle of the long ball by a 1-0 margin, but picked up the only three stolen bases of the night. To the aggressor goes the surviving victory, at least on this night.
"We did manufacture a few runs tonight," said White Sox outfielder Brian Anderson, who replaced Ken Griffey Jr. as a pinch-runner in the sixth, stole second base and scored an insurance run on Juan Uribe's two-out single. "There were some key baserunning moves that gave us a chance to win this game."
"No matter how you do it, the object is to score runs," Griffey said. "It's the most important thing. We were able to do it with the small ball."
This departure from 2008 White Sox baseball began in the second inning, with the Rays leading, 1-0. Dewayne Wise, who walked to lead off the frame, picked up a stolen base with two outs and scored on A.J. Pierzynski's singe to center.
Wise doubled home two runs during a three-run fourth against Tampa Bay starter Matt Garza to give the White Sox a 4-1 advantage. Jim Thome led off the frame with a double, stayed at second on Paul Konerko's walk and then advanced another base on Griffey's single to right.
|"I've never seen a team in big games act as normal and as unflappable as this team has been."|
|-- A.J. Pierzynski|
"You mean the logjam?" said White Sox closer Bobby Jenks with a laugh. "Hey, they got it done. You talk about speed, but they ran the bases well, especially in those situations. That's the type of baseball that wins championships."
Thome tagged up and scored on Alexei Ramirez's sacrifice fly to center fielder B.J. Upton. At the same time, Konerko moved to third and Griffey made a slick baserunning move by sneaking into second a split-second ahead of the relay throw from shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Both runners scored on Wise's first-pitch smash, dumping the ball down the left-field line.
"During the first two games of the series, we just never came up with the big hit with runners in scoring position," said Wise, who now has five RBIs in the series. "Today we did that, and that's something we're gonna have to do again tomorrow."
John Danks was brilliant in his second straight start where a loss could result in the end of the White Sox season. After hurling eight scoreless innings during Tuesday's AL Central tiebreaker victory over the Twins, Danks gave up three runs over 6 2/3 innings on Sunday.
He struck out seven and walked three, exiting after Upton's two-run home run and Carlos Pena's single in the seventh. Octavio Dotel came in to strike out Evan Longoria looking with a fastball to end the rally, and Matt Thornton and Jenks finished up the victory over the final two scoreless innings.
"That's what we get paid to do," Thornton said. "It's our job, and everybody's doing it right now."
Sunday's victory was the 55th for the White Sox at home against just 28 losses. More importantly, they won for the 10th time without going deep in a game, after producing a 9-31 record in that area during the regular season.
Yet, the White Sox still find their backs to the wall, with one false move on Monday canceling their return trip to Florida for Wednesday's Game 5. They are working with a little momentum and the home edge, not to mention a renewed aggressiveness found on Sunday evening by this station-to-station team.
"I've never seen a team in big games act as normal and as unflappable as this team has been," Pierzynski said. "Everything's the same. No one changed anything. That's a good sign. Obviously, we have to win two more games, and it starts with tomorrow. But this team has been amazing."
"Honestly, I can't remember the last game we had a game here where it was just go get them like any other game," Anderson said. "Lately, it's been, 'If you don't win, pack your bags.'"
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less