CHICAGO – Thou Shalt Not Walk the First Hitter is etched on the stone tablet of pitching commandments.
Violate it and risk hellfire and damnation.
Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays was guilty twice Sunday, and as a result, the normally lumbering Chicago White Sox generated offense the lightning Rays' way and live to play another day, extending the American League Division Series with a 5-3 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.
Already reeling from the Cubs' humiliating meltdown in the National League Division Series, this city was one loss from a 0-6 postseason. The White Sox had become Chicago Hope. And they did what their northside neighbors couldn't, responding to the slightest Rays mistakes with bold action.
Even Griffey got frisky, surprising the Rays by advancing from first to second on a fly out to center field in the fourth that brought home Thome. Wise promptly doubled, and Griffey was able to trot home with what turned out to be the deciding run.
Afterward, the White Sox made light of Griffey's daring decision, the way a team does when its risks are rewarded.
Said Griffey: "I asked [bench coach] Joey Cora if I had the green light and he said I had a blinking yellow."
Said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen: "I thought Griffey cheated. I never thought he went back to the bag."
The inaptness was striking. The White Sox are built to bludgeon, not to outrace opponents. But for one day, Guillen appreciated the shift in gears.
"It got everybody excited in the dugout to see those guys play the game the way it should be played," he said. "We got to move, you know, people around. Hit-and-run here and there, try to steal a couple bases. We got something done."
The victim was Garza, yet for the most part he victimized himself. This was a regression for him, because he had admirably harnessed his well-chronicled temper and immaturity during a productive second half of the season.
Even in this game, he did his best to adhere to another pitching commandment: Eliminate Distractions.
He wore earplugs, to combat a cold, drizzly wind and to drown out the boisterous black-clad, towel-waving crowd. "The earplugs were for the cold, and after a while I got hot and put them in my pocket," he said.
He didn't let it bother him when a pigeon landed in front of home plate and waddled toward the mound, lingering until Garza stopped the game and slowly shooed the bird into foul territory.
And he wasn't fazed by a deep hole on the mound that caused him to slip as he delivered pitches, requesting that the White Sox groundskeepers fix the problem before he continued.
"I actually think he pitched a great game," Rays catcher Dioner Navarro said. "He kind of stumbled a little bit, but he gave us a shot."
But walking Wise wasn't wise. Neither was walking Konerko or Griffey. The leadoff batter reached base in four consecutive innings. Three of them scored.
"It was real frustrating, something I have to live with," Garza said. "I had good stuff. I didn't miss too much on the walks. I was throwing belt-high fastballs, and the ball must have tailed off."
Only once in seven innings, meanwhile, did White Sox left-hander John Danks allow the leadoff batter to reach base. The Rays pulled to within 5-3 on a two-run homer by B.J. Upton in the seventh, but reliever Octavio Dotel struck out the dangerous Evan Longoria with a runner on second to end the inning, and the Rays went quietly in the eighth and ninth.
The home-field advantage is substantial in this series. The Rays had the best regular-season home record in baseball at 57-24, and it carried over into Games 1 and 2 of the series. The White Sox were an imposing 54-28 at U.S. Cellular, and they were better in every respect Sunday.
Expect a similar performance from the White Sox on Monday, when Gavin Floyd takes the mound against Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine. It will be the fifth game in a row at home where a loss means the season is over.
That's why Rays manager Joe Maddon made clear his team wasn't guilty of violating another of baseball's sacred commandments: Thou Shalt Not Take Your Opponent Lightly.
"To think you are just going to waltz though this whole thing is not a good thought," he said. "It's very unreasonable. They are very good. And they are very good in this building. It's a bad assumption to think you are just going to come in here and beat up on them."