The recently acquired closer came on in the eighth inning to shut down the Chicago White Sox for the second time in three nights Thursday, helping the Devil Rays hold off the defending World Series champions 5-4.
Damon Hollins and Russell Branyan homered to back the solid starting pitching of Mark Henderickson (3-3).
The loss dropped the White Sox, who shared the best record in baseball before the night began, into second place in the AL Central behind the streaking Detroit Tigers, who have won seven straight to improve to 27-13. Chicago is 26-14.
“This division is about pitching. You pitch good, you will win. You don’t, you’ll be watching games in October,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
“We’re only one game out and we’re not playing that well right now. You’ve got to be positive about the negative stuff. I just worry about the White Sox, make sure they play good every day.”
Walker is one of the biggest reasons the last-place Devil Rays were able to win the series and knock Guillen’s team out of first for the first time since April 15.
After watching Chicago score six runs against his relievers on Tuesday and three more in the eighth on Wednesday, Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon elected to allow Hendrickson to stay in the game after limiting the White Sox to six hits in the first seven innings.
When Jermaine Dye homered to pull Chicago within 5-4, Maddon was left with no choice but to turn to his struggling bullpen again.
This time the move paid off, though not without the White Sox getting the potential tying and go-ahead runs on base.
Walker, the third reliever of the inning, got pinch-hitter Scott Podsednik to foul out to end the threat. The closer pitched the ninth for his seventh save in eight opportunities.
Maddon said Walker, obtained from San Francisco in a trade three weeks ago, gives the entire bullpen confidence.
“We have an anchor now. Whenever you have an anchor, it normally makes the other guys around him stronger,” Maddon said.
“What Ty’s been doing, he’s truly given us some definition and an attitude out there where they just have to follow his lead. He comes out and he’s always calm, he’s always focused, he’s always ready.”
Walker also worked 1 1-3 innings to close out a 10-7 victory on Tuesday.
“I guess I look calm. I don’t know,” Walker said.
“It’s being able to control that adrenaline. It’s a situation where your heart is beating fast and you’ve just got to take a step back and realize the pressure’s on them to hit the ball and get on base. You can’t give them anything. … If they get on base, they’ve got to earn it.”
Tadahito Iguchi homered off Hendrickson to snap a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning. Paul Konerko drove in a run with a first-inning double, then scored on Dye’s sacrifice fly to stake Vazquez to a quick two-run lead.
The Devil Rays rallied from the 2-0 deficit on Ty Wigginton’s RBI single in the first and Branyan’s solo homer in the second, the outfielder’s third home run in four career at-bats against Vazquez.
The White Sox starter retired 15 of 16 batters after Branyan’s homer and worked out of a tight spot after giving up a leadoff double to Wigginton when he got Toby Hall to fly to center, Branyan to pop to short and Tomas Perez to ground back to the mound.
Hendrickson allowed four runs and seven hits in seven-plus innings. He struck out three and walked three.
Vazquez gave up five runs and eight hits in seven innings. Heading into Thursday’s start, he had only allowed two homers in 46 1-3 innings.
Dye, who also homered Wednesday night, has 10 RBIs in his last five games. … Maddon will miss the first two games of Tampa Bay’s weekend series against Florida to attend his girlfriend’s graduation from law school in California. … Before the game, the White Sox announced contract extensions with five coaches—Don Cooper (pitching), Harold Baines (first base), Joey Cora (third base), Art Kusnyer (bullpen) and Greg Walker (hitting). The team plans to evaluate bench coach Tim Raines at the end of the season.