CHICAGO — Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine is not known for overpowering stuff.
He won't light up a radar gun. He won't wow the scouts.
But there's one thing manager Joe Maddon has always pointed out:
"Sonny has always been a winner."
Sonnanstine may not have claimed victory in his previous seven starts, before Monday's Game 4 of the American League Division Series. But Maddon said Sonnanstine was pitching as well as he had throughout his breakout season, and the "W" would soon come.
Sonnanstine picked the perfect night to do just that. In the biggest start of his career, he delivered 52/3 strong innings, giving up just two runs on three hits and punching the Rays' ticket to the American League Championship Series with his first win since Aug. 18.
To thank Sonnanstine, his teammates, calling him everything from "courageous" to "amazing," poured champagne all over his head in the wet-and-wild Rays clubhouse.
"He's just fearless," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "And you knew in a game that we had to have, that he was going to come up pretty big."
After all, that's what Sonnanstine did all year. He has won matchups with some of the best pitchers in the game — from the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano to the Blue Jays' A.J. Burnett, to Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Royals' Zack Greinke. In two of the Rays' biggest wins in September, both against the Red Sox, Sonnanstine didn't get the decision but gave up zero earned runs in 13 innings. Both times, he was matched up against Josh Beckett.
Quipped Hickey: "Or I should say Josh Beckett was matched up against Sonnanstine."
"He could have easily won 17 or 18 ballgames," Hickey said. "He continues to come at guys and (Monday) was a very, very impressive outing to me."
The former 13th-round pick out of Kent State had to fight all season. In the spring, he battled for the final spot in the rotation. And even after racking up 13 regular-season wins, he had to battle to keep it.
"He's been surprising everybody all year," shortstop Jason Bartlett said. "Last night, I was watching on ESPN; they were doubting him. And he showed them tonight. He doesn't have great stuff but he knows how to pitch. And sometimes, that means more than what you've got."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.