CHICAGO — The Rays insisted they knew what they were getting into: that playing the White Sox in Chicago, in a game the Sox had to win, in front of their crazed black-wearing, towel-waving fans, was going to be different.
It's just the degree of difficulty that seemed to be of some concern.
After a chilly afternoon in which neither the bounces, the breaks nor the outcome went their way in a 5-3 loss, the Rays talked a lot about how difficult the conditions were and how dangerous the Sox are.
And though they are still ahead two games to one in the best-of-five Division Series, it's not nearly as clear who has the advantage going into today's Game 4.
"I don't think we thought it was going to be easy coming in here and trying to take one in their house," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We're in the driver's seat still and we've got them on the ropes, we've just got to remember that when we come to the ballpark (today) and really try to apply pressure early … and end this thing."
And on the other side of U.S. Cellular Field, the Sox were suggesting that maybe they just might have the edge.
"The pressure has got to be on them now," outfielder DeWayne Wise said. "Even though they're up 2-1 they've got to be nervous."
The Rays, naturally, insist they're not, that they'll have a better feel for the atmosphere and the approach needed.
That will have to start with cool-hand Andy Sonnanstine, who hasn't won in his past seven starts (though he hasn't pitched that poorly) and acknowledges "it's the biggest game of my life," but insists he won't be too nervous.
"It's going to be a huge game and a hostile environment we're coming into," he said. "You really can't hate on their fans because they're supporting their team. I do a pretty good job of getting locked in, and hopefully I can and not get disrupted by the towels."
Sunday was the fourth time in the past eight days the Sox played essentially an elimination game at U.S. Cellular Field — following the regular-season finale against Cleveland, the makeup game against Detroit and the one-game AL Central playoff against Minnesota — and the fourth time they've won.
"They have faced some difficult moments recently in this ballpark and have done well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "So it's a bad assumption to think you are just going to come in here and beat up on them. These guys are veterans, they're professionals, they're a very good baseball team. And I have a lot of respect for them."
Or as reliever Trever Miller simply said: "They're good."
The differences were everywhere. Unlike Game 1, when James Shields worked his usual steady shift, or Game 2, where Scott Kazmir overcame a horrid start to battle into the sixth, Matt Garza failed to deliver.
"I had a lack of execution," Garza said. "I didn't do my job. My team gave me the three runs I needed. It's all on me."
Garza's biggest problems came in the fourth, when he put the first three on and ended up allowing three runs on two doubles, a single, a walk and a sac fly.
Maddon said Garza was sharp and "on his A game," but he didn't seem particularly comfortable as the game started 35 minutes late due to rain.
He was distracted enough in the second inning by a pigeon to walk off the mound to shoo it away. He took out the ear plugs he said he was wearing due to a head cold because he felt too hot. He was bothered enough by the footing on the front of the mound that he twice complained to home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa and had the grounds crew summoned.
John Danks, conversely, gave the Sox exactly what they needed, stymieing the Rays with an assortment of pitches and holding them to one run until B.J. Upton's two-run homer in the seventh. It was the third time he beat them this season.
They left four on in the first two innings and got the tying run to the plate in each of the last three without converting.
"They beat us, that just happens,'' Maddon said. "It's no more deep than that."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]