CHICAGO -- In hindsight, perhaps the most surprising aspect of Tampa Bay's dispatching of Chicago in their best-of-five American League Division Series was the fact that it took the Rays four games.
The Rays, a team that vaulted to the top of the American League East on its strong pitching, defense and aggressive offense, parlayed that trifecta into a convincing thumping of a White Sox team that went as far as its long ball offense would take it.
With a strong rotation anchored by James Shields and Scott Kazmir, a bullpen that allowed only one run in the ALDS and an offense that hit .297 with 15 extra-base hits, the Rays reminded a few of the White Sox of that 2005 White Sox team that won the World Series.
"They do," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "They have all the pieces. Pitching, bullpen, good hitting, power, a lot of speed and they play great defense. They didn't make any mistakes. Their pitching was outstanding, their bullpen was amazing. Their timely hitting was great."
White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko agreed with that comparison.
"Definitely their style," Konerko said. "But I think they might have a little more of a consistent offense than we had. I think you can get by the fact that it's their first time in the playoffs -- if they don't let that stuff distract them -- I think they'll win. I think they've got the best team all in all. Boston is right there with them. The [Rays have] got something special going over there and we tip our hats. They beat us."
Despite their youth, the Rays did many things winning veteran teams often do, like answer an opponent's rally.
With the exception of the Game 3 loss, every time the White Sox scored, the Rays came back with a run in their next at-bat.
Chicago's offense led the Major Leagues in home runs, but the Rays' staff offset that advantage by limiting the damage. All four of the Sox homers -- the Rays hit six -- were solo shots.
The Rays issued only eight walks in the four games, and never more than one in an inning. Of the 35 innings the Sox offense came to the plate during the series, they were retired in order 16 times and had only one man reach 10 times.
That means 74.2 percent of the time they came to the plate, the Sox managed no more than one baserunner, which meant fewer opportunities for the big inning by Chicago.
The Sox bullpen performance would have been adequate (three earned runs in 13 innings) against most teams. But Rays relievers were flat-out lights-out.
First time's the charm
With their ALDS victory, the Rays became the sixth expansion team to win a postseason debut.
For the series, Tampa Bay's bullpen fashioned an 0.77 ERA with just one earned run in 11 2/3 innings. That run came in the ninth inning of Game 1 on a Konerko home run. From that moment on, Tampa Bay's bullpen held Sox hitters to a .152 batting average (5-for-33) and allowed just one runner to make it to second base.
With pitching that routinely stayed ahead in the count and made the Sox earn their way on base, backed by a defense that played errorless ball, the Sox were in an uphill battle from the get-go.
Unlike Tampa Bay, the Sox aren't a multi-dimensional team. When the sluggers aren't slugging, it is difficult for the Chicago lineup to manufacture runs, the Game 3 aberration notwithstanding.
The Rays can beat you with the long ball or small ball, and proved it in this series.
The common thread in the Rays' modus operandi is their full-speed-ahead mentality. Their pitchers don't give away outs, their hitters don't waste at-bats and they go first to third as well as any team in baseball. Those traits help them compensate on those off nights when the team's modest power game isn't available.
"We just attack the hitters, we are aggressive," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You are looking for them to put the ball in play and you have to have good deputies behind them. I think the fact our defense is so good encourages our pitchers to do that. When you know the ball is going to be covered nicely behind you, you are more apt to want to throw the ball within the zone.
"That's a basic tenet philosophy we have and we want to nurture it and have it grow even further. But that's what you saw [Monday]. You saw [Andy Sonnanstine] do it, then you saw J.P. [Howell], who has been magnificent all year, then of course Grant [Balfour] at the very end. Nothing fancy, just pretty basic."
That kind of relentless attack and stifling defense would be enough of an obstacle for any team to overcome. For a White Sox team that fought off elimination four times in eight days, it was too tall of a task asking them to do it a fifth time.
"We're lucky it wasn't over a week ago," Konerko said. "I think we got the most that we could. We left nothing on the table."
Said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: "They played better than us. There's no doubt. They pitched better. They executed better. They got big hits. I tip my hat to them because they outplayed us. We don't have [many things] going, only one game we just got something going on. But besides that, they really did a tremendous job against this ballclub."
They did everything but sweep.
"They're a very good team," Sox outfielder Nick Swisher said. "I'm impressed. They don't let up and they didn't let us get anything going offensively."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.