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Goal: Play their game

ST. PETERSBURG

There is so much that can be different about the postseason, the way the game can seem faster, additionally intense and more pressure-packed.

But as the Rays prepare for today's first playoff game in team history, their biggest goal, and their best chance, is to keep things as much the same as possible.

"We just want to do the things we did this whole year that made us successful," third baseman Evan Longoria said, "and try not to stray too far away from that."

Certainly in their approach, adhering to manager Joe Maddon's just-another-day mantra and pledge to not alter anything about their daily routine.

But also in how they play the game.

The Rays got to this point, with 97 wins and an American League East championship, by playing an aggressive, uptempo, risk-taking (and occasionally mistake-making) game.

The 89-win White Sox, who beat the Twins in a one-game AL Central playoff Tuesday, do not. They lead the majors in home runs (scoring nearly half their runs that way) and tend to play the rest of the game at a trot.

The Sox are the worst team in the majors on turf at 4-16 and don't do much quickly on either side of the ball, a lack of speed the Rays — who had the majors' best turf record at 59-30 — plan to exploit to get off to a fast start with the first two games of the best-of-five series at Tropicana Field.

"It really turns in our favor now that we're not playing the Twins," Longoria said. "(The Sox are) not used to the dome, and it's going to be the way it should be, it's going to be homefield advantage for us. And we really have to take advantage of it."

Specifically, look for the Rays to run freely and easily when they get on base, taking advantage of Sox pitchers, such as Game 1 starter Javier Vazquez, who don't hold runners on well, and catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who is the majors' worst starter in throwing out basestealers, allowing an 89.7 success rate (96 of 107).

"We're real aggressive," Carl Crawford said. "We want to come out, get after you early and just kind of smother you a little bit."

The Rays' smooth defense should also be a plus, against Sox hitters who have hit into more double plays than anyone else in the majors and have the worst stolen-base percentage.

"We're playing the same game you saw all year," Maddon said. "Nothing's changed. … I don't want anybody to be more cautious at all. That's the last thing I want. I want you to go out and play our game the way we've been doing it all year, taking the same kind of risks and providing the same kind of pressure for the other team. Period. Nothing new."

Maddon is keenly aware of the Sox's turf troubles, mentioning them several times in the past week, but he played it coy at Wednesday's official division series press conference, pointing instead to their experience and pointing out how good their pitching and how dangerous their offense are.

"You've got to know what you're doing against them," Maddon said. "They'll get those three points in a hurry."

The Rays pitchers know that, and that it puts a premium on not making a mistake. Similarly, the Sox pitchers have to do the same if they hope to slow down the Rays by keeping them off base.

"I don't think you look for a certain way to offset them, you just play your game and be good," Chicago's Paul Konerko said. "If you do that, it'll hopefully result in a win."

There is some question whether the Sox will be fired up or drained by their extended season. There is no doubt the Rays are rested, and ready to race around the Trop, where they were 54-24 (plus 3-0 at Disney).

"I'm very confident we can win here," reliever Grant Balfour said. "To take two games would be huge, and I feel like we can do that. I believe that."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

ALDS schedule

The Rays face the AL Central champion White Sox.

TV: TBS

Radio: 1250-AM, 1470-AM, 1040-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)
Rays Vs. White Sox
Todayat Rays, 2:30
Fridayat Rays, 6
Sundayat Chicago, TBA
Monday*at Chicago, TBA
Wednesday*at Rays, TBA
* if necessary


Tonight's games

NLDS

Brewers at Phillies

Game 2, 6, TBS

Phillies lead 1-0

Dodgers at Cubs

Game 2, 9:30, TBS

Dodgers lead 1-0

Dream is real: Nothing can quite match the excitement of postseason baseball, John Romano writes. 1A

Percival off: The closer doesn't make the roster as the Rays keep 10 pitchers. 4C

Special section

A pullout commemorates the Rays' first postseason appearance. Section X

Pitching lifts Phils

Cole Hamels and Philadelphia shut down the Brewers 3-1. 6C

L.A. rips Cubs

Three homers lift the Dodgers past the Cubs 7-2. 6C

Red Sox rally

Jason Bay's two-run homer gives Boston the lead in a 4-1 Game 1 win over Angels. 7C

More Rays online

• Brant James blogs throughout the Rays-White Sox game.

• Marc Topkin previews the division series in an audio slide show.

• Marc Topkin answers your Rays questions.

All at rays.tampabay.com



>>fast facts

Today's schedule

Noon: Gates open

Noon-12:45: Rays batting practice

12:45-1:30: Sox batting practice

2:05: Player Introductions

2:24: National anthem (peformed by BK Jackson, 17-year-old saxophonist from Blake High)

2:28: Ceremonial first pitch (Rays senior VP John Higgins, who joined organization as first employee in 1995; accompanied by many of the other 51 Rays employees who have been with organization since inaugural season)

2:37: First pitch

Rays vs. White in 2008

Rays lead season series 6-4, 4-3 at Tropicana Field

Date Result

April 18 (H) L, 9-2

April 19 (H) W, 5-0

April 20 (H) L, 6-0

May 29 (H) L, 5-1

May 30 (H) W, 2-1

May 31 (H) W, 2-0

June 1 (H) W, 4-3 (10)

Aug. 22 (R) W, 9-4

Aug. 23 (R) W, 5-3

Aug. 24 (R) L, 6-5 (10)

H — home game; R — road game

Goal: Play their game 10/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 2, 2008 1:34am]
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