ST. PETERSBURG—If only for one day, the Tampa Bay Rays found a way around their offensive woes with runners in scoring position.They hit the ball over the wall on Thursday night.Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford smacked solo homers and Jeff Niemann pitched eight strong innings to remain unbeaten as the AL East leaders stopped a season-high, three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over the White Sox.The Rays own baseball’s best record at 33-15. But they’ve struggled in key situations lately, going 2 for 25 with men in scoring position while being swept in a three-game series by Boston this week.They were 0 for 5 Thursday before Hank Blalock drove in two runs with an eighth-inning single.But by that time, they were already in control because of Crawford and Longoria’s homers and Niemann’s pitching.The 6-foot-9 right-hander limited the White Sox to singles by Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham before giving up a homer to Mark Teahen, leading off the eighth inning.Niemann (5-0) walked three and struck out five before Randy Choate and Dan Wheeler finished the four-hitter with a scoreless ninth. Crawford hit his fourth homer in the first inning and also drove in a run off Gavin Floyd (2-5) with a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Longoria’s solo shot off the Sox starter put Tampa Bay ahead 3-0 in the sixth.The Rays only managed four hits off Floyd over seven innings. But it didn’t matter with the White Sox sputtering offensively in their first game since manager Ozzie Guillen’s expletive-filled postgame rant about umpire Joe West in Cleveland.Guillen and pitcher Mark Buehrle were ejected by West for protesting a pair of balks during a victory over the Indians on Wednesday.The manager said before Thursday’s game that he spoke his mind about West’s handling of the ejections but did not feel he did anything to warrant harsh disciplinary action.A close call that went against the White Sox in the fifth inning brought Guillen out of the dugout again Thursday.This time, he mildly protested to umpire Eric Cooper that Teahen, the third baseman, had put a good tag on Rays runner Sean Rodriguez, who advanced on a pop fly that was caught in foul territory.Rodriguez scored, making it 2-0, on Crawford’s sacrifice fly. Longoria’s 10th homer gave Niemann a three-run lead, and Blalock’s two-run single off Scott Linebrink made it 5-1 in the eighth.
NOTES—Guillen will miss Friday night’s game to attend his son’s high school graduation in Miami. Ozney Guillen has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at South Florida…..Slumping Rays CF B.J. Upton was out of the starting lineup for the second straight night, a break manager Joe Maddon hopes will enable Upton, who’s batting .210, to “resettle” and stop pressing at the plate. He entered the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth and is set to return to the starting lineup Friday…..Tampa Bay LHP David Price (7-1) will go for his AL-leading eighth win Friday. The White Sox handed him his only loss April 20 in Chicago.