The White Sox, who knocked off the Indians, Tigers and Twins last week in must-win games at U.S. Cellular Field, face an even bigger task Sunday when they face the Rays down 0-2 in the best-of-five ALDS.
"They've had their backs to the wall before and won," Rays left fielder Carl Crawford said. "We know we're in for a battle."
The Rays had their way with the White Sox in the first two games at Tropicana Field. They've outscored the Sox 12-6, outhit them by 59 points and their team ERA of 3.00 is less than half of Chicago's (6.75). The Sox, who led the Major Leagues with 235 home runs, have managed just three extra-base hits to Tampa Bay's eight.
The Sox are hoping a change of scenery will change the momentum of this series. Towards that end, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen will give the ball to John Danks to start Sunday's 3:07 p.m. CT game against Tampa Bay right-hander Matt Garza.
It was Danks who beat the Twins on Tuesday night with eight scoreless innings to clinch the AL Central title. Guillen is hoping the left-hander is up for a similar outing against Tampa Bay.
"This is the exact same thing as what we had on Tuesday," Danks said. "Tuesday, you know, was a playoff game for us. This is the same thing. So, win, and we get a Game 4 and get to get Gavin [Floyd] in there. Lose, and, you know, we go home. We're going to approach it like we have the last three must-win games we've had, and we'll see how it goes."
In some ways, the Rays present many of the same problems for a pitcher the Twins do in terms of speed and situational hitting.
"I think they're very similar to Minnesota in that, you know, they have guys that do all the small things," Danks said. "They'll bunt, they'll hit and run, they'll steal. Middle of the line up you got to be careful. You know, guys can hit the ball out of the ballpark."
Danks handled the Twins well enough last week. But can he slow down the Rays?
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 31 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.|
The Rays aren't taking anything for granted.
"[Being up] 2-0 definitely feels good, but there's no guarantee," Crawford said. "We all remember what happened with New York and Boston."
Crawford was, of course, referring to 2004 when the Red Sox lost the first three games of the best-of-seven AL Championship Series before coming back to win four games. The Red Sox won the final game of that series at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays would like to make sure the White Sox don't get a chance to turn the tables on them with a three-game winning streak. The last thing they want to see is the White Sox clinching at Tropicana Field. The second-to-last thing the Rays want to see is the series coming back here.
"It's really awesome to keep home-field advantage and go to Chicago up 2-0, it's a good feeling," Rays reliever Dan Wheeler said. "There's still a lot of work to be done, though. We're going to compete, and compete every day like it's our last day."
The Rays have history on their side. Twenty-seven of the 31 teams to take a 2-0 lead in the LDS have gone on to win the series. Twenty one of that 27 advanced via a three-game sweep.
"We've been in this situation before -- just the other day," White Sox right fielder Jermaine Dye said. "We know what we got to do, we got to win three in a row and if not we go home."
The series also moves outside.
The Rays won't have their "dome-field advantage," and temperatures in Chicago are expected to be in the low 50s for Sunday's game.
"We can't let those things bother us," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We still have to play our game and do what we've been doing all year long."
Players on both sides said weather shouldn't be a factor.
"We're not going to change what we do," Crawford said. "We're going to try to keep doing what we've been doing. Play our game, get the good pitching and defense, and the great work from the bullpen. That's our game, home or road, doesn't matter. Everybody in this room knows what we need to do. We get one more win and we advance."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.