Baldelli and the Rays look to continue their recent dominance of the Chicago White Sox on Saturday when the postseason contenders continue their three-game set at U.S. Cellular Field.
Tampa Bay (78-49), which owns the best record in the majors, beat Chicago (73-54) for the fourth straight time Friday, winning the series opener 9-4. The loss dropped the White Sox, who had won six straight at home, one-half game behind both Minnesota for first place in the AL Central and Boston for the wild card.
Baldelli hit his first home run in more than a year, and Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist also homered for the Rays, who lead the Red Sox by 4 1/2 games in the AL East. Baldelli batted .289 with 78 RBIs in his rookie season in 2003, but has struggled with injuries since. After playing only 35 games in 2007 because of a strained left hamstring, he’s been limited to six games this season because of a mitochondrial disorder.
“I just want to get back into the swing of things where I feel comfortable and it’s not a big deal when I go through a game and do something well,” said Baldelli, who has six hits in 20 at-bats since coming off the 60-day disabled list on Aug. 10. “I just want to contribute to what’s going on here. It’s awesome.”
Scott Kazmir (9-6, 3.21 ERA) is another key young Rays player who has struggled with injuries, with three DL stints in the past three seasons. He’s been excellent when healthy, though, posting an ERA of 3.48 or lower each year.
The left-hander earned his first win since July 21 against Texas on Sunday, when he allowed two runs and four hits with seven strikeouts in six innings of a 7-4 victory.
Kazmir is 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA lifetime against the White Sox, including a 2-0 win May 31, when he had six strikeouts over seven three-hit innings. With a similar performance Saturday, he can help the Rays win their first season series from the White Sox since 1998.
The White Sox were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position Friday and stranded eight baserunners, but manager Ozzie Guillen isn’t concerned.
“That’s kind of a weird feeling about the situation here in Chicago,” Guillen said. “We lose a game and all the sudden we are down the tank. I don’t know if it’s people waiting for us to fail or people don’t just believe in the White Sox.”
Guillen hands the ball on Saturday to Javier Vazquez (10-10, 4.34 ERA), who looks to win his third straight start. The right-hander has pitched eight innings to win each of his last two outings, including a 13-1 victory over Oakland on Sunday, when he struck out eight while limiting the Athletics to one run and four hits.
Vazquez is 5-3 with a 4.28 ERA in 11 career starts against Tampa Bay.