ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon had hinted coming into this series that the White Sox's lineup, though not hitting for a high average, could deliver big blows with the long ball at a moment's notice.
Thursday night, the Rays found that out the hard way.
In an historic matchup at the Trop — the first time two teams in sole possession of first place met there — the AL Central-leading visitors beat the Rays at their own game, with strong pitching and timely hitting.
The White Sox did hit two homers in their 5-1 win, but many of the 12,636 in attendance likely noticed more the scoring chances the Rays left on the bases. Tampa Bay was 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position, stranding nine.
The Rays (32-22) still hold the best record in the American League and remain alone in first in the East, but they couldn't come up with the big hit that has been a staple of their remarkable run. The White Sox (30-23) have won 15 of their last 21.
"We had opportunities to get the game where we wanted to, but we couldn't get the run in," Maddon said. "They beat us tonight. They outpitched us tonight."
That's not to say Rays starter Edwin Jackson didn't pitch well enough to win. Jackson (3-4), coming off a rough start in which he didn't feel comfortable on the mound (despite earning a win), said he felt "back to normal" Thursday, when he gave up four runs in six innings.
But he had to battle the whole way. The White Sox put up two runs in the third (on an RBI single by Orlando Cabrera and a double by Jim Thome) for a 2-0 lead, but Jackson stranded runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings.
In the sixth, with the score 2-1, the White Sox's Joe Crede smacked an 0-and-2 pitch for a solo homer, which Maddon called a "pretty big moment." Cabrera later knocked in Nick Swisher with a double to left-center, and the White Sox were up 4-1.
The White Sox went into the game second in the AL with 61 homers, and their two Thursday came at key times.
"That's the scary part about them; they can bite you at a moment's notice," Maddon said. "A lot of them can, not just one or two. They're pretty much power-laden throughout the entire lineup."
Chicago's sixth inning could have been worse for the Rays had it not been for B.J. Upton. He made a spectacular throw from the warning track to Evan Longoria at third to stop Cabrera short of a triple.
The Rays couldn't crack White Sox lefty John Danks (4-4), who scattered six hits over six innings. Their best chance came in the third. DH Willy Aybar, activated in the afternoon from the disabled list, sparked a rally with a leadoff double. But after Carl Crawford knocked him in with a single, the Rays squandered a bases-loaded, one-out situation as Carlos Pena struck out and Longoria grounded into a fielder's choice.
Jason Bartlett, who stole a career-high three bases, was stranded on third twice. Upton reached third in the eighth with one out, but the Rays couldn't push him across.
"(Danks) kept getting better and better," Cabrera said. "He kept the ball down and was getting out of jams."