CHICAGO — White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said he hopes his club gets a new batch of "oxygen" before they open the American League Division Series on Thursday against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
But there's one thing he wants to keep: momentum.
"Right now," Guillen said. "We're hot."
The White Sox, having squandered an AL Central lead the past two weeks, staved off elimination for the third straight day, winning a 1-0 one-game playoff with the Twins on Tuesday night to clinch the division and a date with Tampa Bay.
The veteran-laden group had a much more subdued clubhouse celebration, which consisted of more cigars than champagne. Whether it was a been-there-before mentality, or just flat out fatigue after a roller-coaster weekend, the White Sox took a businesslike approach. While they expect a tough series from the Rays, as DH Jim Thome said, "we like our chances."
"I'd rather face them than Boston right now in the first round," said Chicago left-hander Mark Buehrle, whose Sox lost six of 10 games to the Rays this season. "They kind of remind me of this team here, they go out there get on base, they steal, they hit and run. They do everything they're supposed to do."
Left-hander John Danks' eight scoreless innings symbolized the White Sox's grit and desperation in recent days. Danks, the fourth straight starter to pitch on three days rest, allowed two hits. (Guillen said right-hander Javier Vazquez will start Game 1 against the Rays, the rest to be determined).
Though the Sox will be worn arriving early this morning in St. Petersburg, with a workout and media session part of a one- day buffer between Thursday's ALDS opener, they feel they're coming together at the right time.
While the Rays have rested, the White Sox have played do-or-die baseball for the past week. Tuesday had a postseason, Game 7 feel. There was the ring of plastic hovering over each locker in both clubhouses, each anticipating a champagne celebration; there was the sellout of 40,354 dressed for "Blackout," cheering for every Twins out as if it were a countdown.
The biggest out came in the fifth, when Ken Griffey threw out Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer trying to score on a sacrifice fly from third. The one-hop throw from shallow center barely beat Cuddyer. He lowered his shoulder into catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was knocked down but held on for the out and pumped his fist.
"I have no idea (how I held on)," Pierzynski said.
The biggest hit came in the seventh when Thome crushed a 461-foot homer.
Guillen, an ex-Ray, said he's "proud" he'll be the first manager to face Tampa Bay in a playoff series and compete against the Rays' Joe Maddon, "one of the best managers in the game."
But he's also proud of his own team, having quipped pregame that with the up-and-down season, he would think about writing a book on the year. The title?
"How the hell we … in first place?"
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com