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Spin Forward: Rays 'pen is mighty

Spin Forward: Rays 'pen is mighty

ST. PETERSBURG -- When you've been outscored, 12-6, outhit, .339 to .278, outpitched, 3.00-to-6.75 and stranded 16 baserunners in two games, there's a lot to improve.

The Chicago White Sox, down, 0-2, to Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series, may not be able to turn the tables on so many problem areas immediately, but if they can find an answer to the Rays' bullpen in Game 3, perhaps they'll at least find a way to avoid getting swept.

In Game 2 on Friday night, the White Sox once again were stymied by Tampa Bay's bullpen. As they did in Game 1, the Sox couldn't come up with a hit with runners in scoring position against Rays relievers.

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Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, Dan Wheeler and Chad Bradford have held Sox hitters to a .261 batting average with just one RBI. Tampa Bay's bullpen has not allowed a hit with runners in scoring position in the series.

On Friday night, the bullpen slammed the door in Chicago's face for the second night in a row. Howell retired Jim Thome, Alexei Ramirez and A.J. Pierzynski in order in the seventh after the Sox put two runners on, ending Chicago's best scoring threat in the 6-2 loss.

"You can't say enough about what Howell did tonight," Wheeler said. "First and second, nobody out, and some pretty big boppers coming up and he makes pitches. That was fun to watch."

The Rays' bullpen came in well-rested, but has shown no signs of rust. It has been sharp and answered every challenge.

"They're here for a reason," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said of Tampa Bay's bullpen. "They're here because they can pitch and they catch the ball. They will take any little thing and take advantage of their speed and they don't strike out much.

"When you have that combination with the ballclub, you can be anything in the big leagues, because you have so many different weapons, you have to be aware about anything. They don't have a legit closer, and I see they have lefty, righty, lefty in the bullpen. That's why they have the brightest men I've seen in the game right now."

What the Rays have is an interchangeable bullpen where roles are loosely defined. It's an arrangement that gives manager Joe Maddon multiple matchup options in key late-game situations.

"That's kind of been our M.O. all year, that's just how Joe's used us," Wheeler said. "Usually after the fifth inning, we're pretty much all ready to go, whatever situation Joe likes the matchup. Whatever it takes, it doesn't matter, as long as the Rays put up a 'W', we're cool with that."

Bradford avoided a possible uprising in the ninth by getting Paul Konerko to hit into a double play after Dye had led off with an infield hit.

"That's our guys, it's a never-quit attitude," Wheeler said. "It's pretty amazing to be part of and fun to watch, a testament to everybody in this locker room. We've got a really good mix here, a couple of lefties, a couple of righties, and they want to be out there. The key thing is everybody out there wants the ball."

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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