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Iwamura's 13-pitch walk changes game for Rays

CHICAGO — The biggest plate appearance of Saturday's game didn't result in a hit.

But Akinori Iwamura's 13-pitch marathon against White Sox reliever Matt Thornton was a huge hit in the Rays clubhouse.

Manager Joe Maddon called it "tremendous." Carlos Pena, one of the team's most patient hitters, said Iwamura's focus was abnormal.

To Iwamura, he was simply staying alive.

With the bases loaded and the Rays down 3-1, Iwamura stared down Thornton, a 6-foot-5 left-hander who had struck out the second baseman in all four of their career matchups.

Not this time. After drawing a full count, Iwamura fouled off seven straight pitches before drawing the run-scoring — and rally-sparking — run.

"I knew he was a great pitcher, with a great fastball," Iwamura said through a translator. "He throws really hard. I knew the situation (though), that the bases were loaded and I was trying to get the runs in at the time."

Two batters later, Pena delivered the go-ahead two-run single. But Pena called Iwamura's battle, symbolic of the Rays' come-from-behind win, the "key" to the inning.

"You've got to be cold-blooded to be in that situation and only focus on seeing the ball and staying in your zone," Pena said. "Needless to say, it's not normal for a human being to maintain, to stay poised in a situation like that. And Aki did it unbelievably."

Leaving an impression: One day after calling the Rays one of the best stories in baseball in the past decade, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen delivered more hefty praise to Tampa Bay's toughness in a tight pennant race. In a stretch without All-Star 3B Evan Longoria (fractured wrist) and two-time All-Star LF Carl Crawford (finger injury), the Rays are 9-3.

"They lost their two best players and are still fighting in a tough division," said Guillen, a former Ray. "In my mind, they don't even know what they are yet. If they win it all, it'll be a great thing for them and baseball. I said last year, 'Be careful of that club; they're going to turn the corner.' "

Funny on Fox: Saturday's game was the Rays' first on Fox in more than five years and just their third in club history. And backup C Shawn Riggans took full advantage of his face time. Although he didn't play, he was a hit on the pregame show with his colorful introduction of the Rays lineup, making references to Cliff Floyd's nickname of "Big Brown" and the "baby book" of a new proud papa in SS Jason Bartlett. "Two takes," Riggans said of his performance. "I told them, 'I started my TV career today.' "

Hot bat: Bartlett had two of the Rays' biggest hits — including breaking up Javier Vazquez's perfect game in the sixth with a double — and it isn't a surprise considering his recent performance at the plate. Bartlett boasts an eight-game hitting streak in his first starts at shortstop since coming back from a right index finger bruise and has raised his average to .272.

Miscellany: Maddon picked up his 206th career victory as Rays manager, a club record, passing Larry Rothschild. "It's a very proud moment for the Maddon family," Maddon said. … The Rays clinched their first series win at the White Sox since their inaugural season in 1998. … LHP David Price, the No. 1 pick in 2007, made his third start for Triple-A Durham Saturday night and again was less than dazzling, lasting four innings, allowing two runs on six hits, walking two and striking out three. The no-decision left him 0-1, 4.85 with the Bulls.

>>Fast facts

Milestone time

With Saturday's win, the Rays set several club records:

• They are 30 games over .500 for first time in franchise history.

• They have an all-time high 51/2-game lead in the AL East.

• Manager Joe Maddon has the most career wins (206), topping Larry Roths-child (205).

Iwamura's 13-pitch walk changes game for Rays 08/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:24pm]

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