Cub bats still walk the plank against Bucs who win 2-1


PITTSBURGH—The Pittsburgh Pirates can’t seem to beat any opponent regularly except one. The Cubs, a team with a payroll that’s more than three times larger than Pittsburgh’s, are getting very tired of being the exception.Tired enough, it appears, to start making some changes.Pinch-hitter Bobby Crosby singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, Garrett Jones homered and the Pirates ended a five-game losing streak by beating the Cubs 2-1 on Monday.The Pirates were coming off a 1-6 road trip and had lost nine of 11, only to beat the Cubs for the eighth time in nine meetings dating to the final week of last season. The Pirates were 6-1 in May against the Cubs but were 5-17 against the rest of the NL.Baffling? The Cubs think so.For now, manager Lou Piniella plans to give a slumping Derrek Lee the day off Tuesday, the same tactic that didn’t work Monday with Ryan Theriot. Theriot, who entered during a double switch in the eighth, struck out to end the game and is in a 5 for 36 slump.He’s not the only Cubs hitter who isn’t hitting. Lee is 1 for 14, Marlon Byrd is 7 for 46 and Aramis Ramirez is batting .162, the majors’ second-lowest average for an everyday player.For most of the season, the Pirates — who were a season-low 11 games below .500 before winning — have felt the same way. They won despite scoring three runs or fewer for the 11th time in 12 games.Jones’ ninth homer of the season tied it at 1 in the sixth, and he doubled leading off the eighth against reliever Sean Marshall (5-2). After Lastings Milledge grounded out and Ryan Doumit was intentionally walked, Crosby lined a 3-2 pitch by Marshall into center field to score Jones.Evan Meek (3-1) pitched a scoreless eighth for the victory, and Octavio Dotel finished up for his 11th save in 13 opportunities.Cubs starter Randy Wells pitched five shutout innings on two days’ rest after failing to retire a batter while giving up six hits on 16 pitches during a 7-1 loss Friday to St. Louis. Wells left with a 1-0 lead, but that disappeared in three pitches by reliever James Russell as Jones homered into the right-field seats.Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf, 0-3 this season and winless in 10 starts since Aug. 18, also pitched effectively. He struck out six, walked two while allowing three hits over seven innings, and a mixup by the Pirates’ outfield led to the only run he allowed.Soriano tripled into the left-center gap with one out in the second on a fly ball that center fielder Andrew McCutchen was in position to catch, before he pulled up at the last moment to avoid colliding with left fielder Ryan Church. Soriano, who came in batting .211 in his previous 12 games, then scored on Geovany Soto’s grounder.Despite the Soriano fly ball misplay, McCutchen roamed far to his right to slide on his left hip and catch Soriano’s line drive in the sixth inning. In the eighth, third baseman Andy LaRoche likely prevented a run from scoring by making an excellent play on Mike Fontenot’s two-out grounder with a runner on third.

NOTES—Wells became the first Cubs pitcher to start twice in four days since Mike Bielecki on June 12 & 15, 1990…..Cubs pitching prospect Andrew Cashner made his major-league debut, retiring Ronny Cedeno on a pop-up to end the eighth on the only pitch he threw……The Cubs are 0-4 in Pittsburgh.

Rays bid to win series is Nixed by Sox


ST. PETERSBURG—Jayson Nix hit his first career grand slam, helping the White Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 8-5 on Sunday to split a four-game series with the AL East-leaders.Nix put the White Sox up 7-3 on his homer in the sixth. He replaced Mark Teahen, who left in the fourth with a right middle finger injury, at third base.Ben Zobrist homered and had two RBI for the Rays, who went 2-5 on a seven-game homestand. Tampa Bay, with the major’s best record (34-17), is just 15-12 at home.The Sox, at 22-28, have not yet reached the high expectations coming out of spring training and Ozzie Guillen feels the team has little time to impress general manager Ken Williams heading into the non-waiver trade deadline in July.Jake Peavy (4-4) allowed five runs and 10 hits over 5 1/3 innings.Shields (5-3) went 5 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs and 11 hits.After Matt Thornton allowed one hit over 2 1/3 scoreless innings, Tony Pena got the final two outs in the ninth in a non-save situation.White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who tweaked his right calf running on Friday, was not available and is day to day.Zobrist had a third-inning solo homer and added a sacrifice fly during a two-run fifth. The Rays pulled to 7-5 on RBI singles by Reid Brignac and Carl Crawford in the sixth.Alex Rios hit an RBI single in a two-run first and had a solo shot during the third for the Sox. Omar Vizquel hit an eighth-inning run-scoring double.

NOTES—Tampa Bay players will be wearing hockey uniforms on the flight to Toronto for Monday night’s game with the Blue Jays as part of a road trip theme. Many are sporting  Blackhawks’ sweaters, which the Stanley Cup finalists sent to the Rays for free. “It’s all in fun,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s cool.” … Gordon Beckman, who hit .167 with no extra base hits in May, got the day off. … Rays SS Jason Bartlett, who strained his right hamstring Saturday, didn’t play. He is also expected to sit out Monday’s game. … Teahen will have X-rays taken on Monday.

Pujols homers three times as Cubs drop series to Cards

Albert Pujols hit three long balls and Adam Wainwright pitched seven impressive innings, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 9-1 victory against the Cubs on Sunday.Pujols homered in the first, fifth and ninth innings for his fourth career three-homer game, and first since Sept. 3, 2006, against the Pirates. He has hit four home runs in four games after the drought.Pujols dismissed the idea that his recent struggles were related to injuries.Pujols had a season-high four RBI and took over sole possession of second place on the Cardinals’ RBI list with 1,150. Pujols trails only Stan Musial, who had 1,951 RBI for St. Louis.The Cardinals, who will begin a three-game series against the NL Central-leading Reds on Monday, won their first series at Wrigley Field since taking two of three from the Cubs on April 20-22, 2007.Wainwright (7-3) improved to 5-0 in his past eight starts against the Cubs. He allowed only one run on seven hits. He struck out eight and walked two.The Cardinals finished a six-game road trip 3-3 and showed offensive life after getting shut out by Carlos Silva and the Cubs on Saturday. The Cardinals’ 2-5 hitters had 12 of the team’s 14 hits. Pujols’ had three hits and Matt Holliday added four. Holliday is 10 for 17 in his past four games.David Freese, who also had three hits, hit a two-run shot for the Cardinals.All nine of the Cardinals’ runs came after two outs.Cubs starter Ryan Dempster (3-5) allowed six runs on nine hits. He struck out seven and walked three on 125 pitches.With two outs in the first, Pujols hit a towering shot on a 1-2 pitch that easily cleared the left-center bleachers and landed on Waveland Avenue.In the fifth, Pujols pulled Dempster’s two-out, 3-2 pitch just inside the left-field foul pole and onto Waveland to give St. Louis a 4-0 lead. It was Pujols third multihomer game of the season and 36th overall and he is only one game behind Musial for most in club history.Pujols’ third home run of the game came off John Grabow in the ninth. He hit a 1-2 pitch to straightaway center for his 12th of the season. After Holliday singled, Freese hit his fourth home run of the season.Geovany Soto hit a home run in the seventh for the Cubs, who wound up splitting a six-game homestand.In the second inning with two outs, Aramis Ramirez tried to score from second on Starlin Castro’s single, but center fielder Jon Jay threw out Ramirez at the plate.The Cubs saw another scoring chance spoiled in the fourth. With the bases loaded and one out, Castro hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Brendan Ryan to set up an easy inning-ending double play.

NOTES—Carlos Zambrano will return to the starting rotation Wednesday at Pittsburgh.  Tom Gorzelanny will be moved to the bullpen….Cubs manager Lou Piniella said the Cubs plan to call up RHP Andrew Cashner sometime during the upcoming three-game series at Pittsburgh. Cashner, who was the Cubs first pick in 2008, will be used as a reliever…..The 125 pitches thrown by Dempster are his most since throwing 126 on Sept. 8, 2001, vs. the Mets, while with the Marlins. His career high is 130 on Aug. 21, 2000, at San Francisco, while with Florida.

One down as Hawks win sloppy game one from Flyers



The Blackhawks edged the Philadelphia Flyers 6-5 in game one of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals at the United Center on Tomas Kopecky’s goal at 8:25 of the third period which snapped a 5-5 tie.It was also the only tally of the third period tally after each team scored five over the first two periods. For a Stanley Cup Finals game,the two starting goalies, Antti Niemi of the Blackhawks and Michael Leighton of Philadelphia looked more like sieves through the first two periods. This was a high flying,high scoring first fourty minutes,not unlike NHL Allstar Games in which goaltenders are sitting ducks. The Flyers struke first when Ville Leino scored off a Danny Briere feed in close at 6:38.The Blackhawks answered fast at 7:46 when Troy Brouwer tapped in a Marian Hossa shot to tie it up. Dave Bolland gave the Hawks their first lead at 11:50 when he stole a pass at center ice while Patrick Kane was serving a questionable slashing penalty,skated in alone and beat Leighton top shelf at 11:50. But Dan O’Halloran sent off Brian Campbell for high sticking at 15:51 and the Flyers converted on the power play when Scott Hartnell tipped in a rebound of a Chris Pronger shot to tie it. When it looked like the first period would end in a tie, the Hawks got sloppy in their end and Leino got it to Briere who put on inside the left post at 19:33 and Philly led 3-2 after one with a 17-9 shots on goal edge, much in part due to having three power plays to none for the Hawks.The second period was dominated by the Blackhawks even thought the only penalty was called on Adam Burish for boardi ng at 4:49,but by that time Patrick Sharp had tied the game against his old team off a Brouwer pass at 1:11.The Flyers regained the lead at 7:20 when Blair Betts scored his first of the playoffs,but again the Hawks had an answer. Kris Versteeg tied it at 9:31 by rebounding a Tomas Kopecky shot and Brouwer put the Hawks ahead 5-4 after a great individual play behind the net by Kopecky who centered for the tip in at 15:18 and that was the end of Leighton’s evening as Brian Boucher replaced him. The Flyers tied it at 18:49 on a goal by Aaron Asham.The Hawks outshot the Flyers 15-9 in the second period. The game winner by Brouwer was the only goal Boucher gave up,but it was the biggest of the game.

NOTES—The sellout of 22,312 was the Hawks 100th straight United Center sellout…..Referees O’Halloran and Bill McCreary called four minor penalties on the Hawks and no penalties on Philadelphia…..Shots on goal were deadlocked at 32-32….The last time the Hawks LED in a Stanley Cup Finals was in 1971 against Montreal when they were up three games to two before losing the series in seven games. They never had the lead against the Habs in 1973 and got swept by Pittsburgh in 1992.


Danks has off day as Sox lose to Rays


ST. PETERSBURG—Struggling slugger Carlos Pena made the most of a rare recent hit.Pena drove in three runs, Wade Davis allowed three runs while pitching into the seventh inning and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the White Sox 8-5 on Saturday night.Pena hit a three-run double during a four-run fourth inning off John Danks (4-4) to put Tampa Bay up 6-2. The other run scored on Gabe Kapler’s bunt.Pena has just 12 hits in 94 at-bats during May. The first baseman was 1 for 5, including two strikeouts, on Saturday.Davis (5-4) scattered six hits over 6 1/3 innings. The right-hander was coming off a loss to Boston last Monday in which he allowed five runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings.Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez homered for the White Sox, who are 4-17 — including 12 losses in the last 13 attempts — in games following a victory this season.Tampa Bay, with the major’s best record at 34-16, is 2-4 during a seven-game homestand. Rafael Soriano, the Rays’ fourth reliever, pitched the ninth for his 14th save.A solo homer by B.J. Upton and Sean Rodriguez’s RBI bunt extended the Rays’ advantage to 8-2 in the fifth. Upton has two homers in his last 35 games, and just four of his 20 RBI this year have come at home.Danks had won all four of his previous starts at Tampa Bay. The left-hander gave up eight runs and eight hits in four-plus innings. Danks threw 102 pitches.The White Sox went up 2-1 on Quentin’s two-run homer, his first since April 28, in the second. Ramirez had a solo shot during the seventh.Paul Konerko had a run-scoring double and later scored on Dan Wheeler’s wild pitch to get the Sox within 8-5 in the eighth.Evan Longoria hit an RBI double in the first for the Rays. John Jaso had a third-inning run-scoring single.

NOTES—Rays SS Jason Bartlett left in the fourth with a strained right hamstring. He was hurt while attempting to field Quentin’s single to center. “I personally don’t think it’s that bad,” said Bartlett, who might have an MRI exam on Sunday. … Guillen rejoined the team after attending the high school graduation of his son Ozney on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fla. “Being there was a special day for the family,” Guillen said. “It was great. Feel proud.” … Bobby Jenks said his right calf, which he tweaked running on Friday, is much improved and that the injury is “nothing serious.”

Silva wins again as Cubs blank Cards

Carlos Silva won again, striking out a career-high 11 during seven dominant innings and pitching the Cubs past the St. Louis Cardinals 5-0 Saturday. Silva (7-0) allowed just two hits and walked none. Matt Holliday was the only Cardinals’ batter to reach base against Silva with a single in the second and a double in the seventh.Silva became the first Cubs starter to begin a season 7-0 since Ken Holtzman went 9-0 in 1967.Acquired from Seattle in an offseason trade for outfielder Milton Bradley, Silva is the pitcher to start his Cubs career at 7-0 since Jim Weaver won his first seven decisions in 1934. The last full-time starter to open with seven wins for the Cubs was King Cole in 1910.Three relievers finished off the combined four-hitter. The Cardinals were held to one run or less for the eighth time this month and 13th time this season, and they’ve been shut out five times.Silva struck out the side in the third. When got Felipe Lopez looking to end the inning, it was Silva’s seventh strikeout of the game, surpassing his previous high of six.Cardinals starter Adam Ottavino (0-1) gave up four runs on five hits and six walks in major league debut. He took the spot of Kyle Lohse who was placed on the disabled list on Thursday. Mike Fontenot, playing for the injured Aramis Ramirez, hit a pair of triples. He also got hit by Cardinals reliever Blake Hawksworth in the eighth inning.The Cubs took a 3-0 lead in the fourth. Alfonso Soriano walked, stole second and scored on Marlon Byrd’s single. Fontenot hit an RBI triple and scored on Starlin Castro’s single.Silva drew a walk in the sixth that set up a bases-loaded walk to Kosuke Fukudome. In the eighth, Fukudome hit a sacrifice fly.

NOTES—Ottavino was 4-3 with a 4.17 ERA at Triple-A Memphis. Lohse had surgery on his right forearm in Los Angeles on Friday.

NU gets revenge on N.Car, try for 6th straight Women’s Lacrosse National Title Sunday

TOWSON—Behind a second half offensive surge and a trio of hat tricks by the Northwestern offense, the Wildcats pulled away from North Carolina 15-10 in the NCAA semifinal at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md. Second-ranked Northwestern now sets its sights on Sunday’s national championship game, where it will meet top-ranked Maryland at 4:30 p.m. CT Sunday, May 30. Seniors Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) and Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) each recorded three goals on the night, complemented by a hat trick from freshman Erin Fitzgerald (Mt. Sinai, N.Y./Mt. Sinai), who continues her high level of play in the postseason. Sophomore Shannon Smith (West Bablyon, N.Y./West Babylon) led the ‘Cats with four points on the night (2G, 2A) while junior Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School) and sophomore Alexandra Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) each added a pair of goals for NU. Spencer also made her presence felt in the draw circle, winning a game-best eight on the night as the Wildcats held a 17-9 advantage for the night. She upped her season total to 105 and became just the fourth player in NCAA history to eclipse the 100-draw mark in a single season. Dowd continued to live up to her nickname of “Miss May,” as with her three goals on the night she extended her tournament goal total to an NCAA-record 45. Dowd also became just the fourth player in Division I history to tally 50 career postseason points, sitting at 52 in a Wildcat uniform and within striking distance of former teammates Hannah Nielsen (56 points) and Hilary Bowen (55). She now sits at 77 goals on the year, marking a new personal-best and moving into second-place all-time in program history in single-season goals, trailing only Bowen’s 81 in 2008. The victory over the Tar Heels avenges the Wildcats’ only loss of the 2010 season, an 18-16 defeat in Evanston on April 18, as they improve to 7-2 all-time against North Carolina. Northwestern extended its NCAA-record postseason winning streak to 23 games while notching it’s 20th win of the season — the sixth-straight season Northwestern has reached the 20-win plateau. North Carolina struck first as Laura Zimmerman gave the Heels a 1-0 lead with just 95 seconds burned off the clock. Matthews then energized her hometown fans, firing a shot into the back of the net to even the game at one at the 24:38 mark. The two teams would then lock down in a defensive struggle, going nearly 13 minutes without a goal until Spencer rocketed a free position goal past Ripley to give the ‘Cats their first lead of the game at 2-1. It was short lived, however, as UNC answered just 43 seconds later to knot the contest at two. Fitzgerald gave the lead back to Northwestern, converted on a free position attempt to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead with 2:25 to go in the opening half.But as the waning seconds ticked off the clock, both offenses seemed to finally come alive. UNC’s Megan Bosica scored with 27 seconds left, only to see Dowd convert a behind-the-back beauty 10 seconds later (a play which made SportsCenter’s Top 10 highlight reel) and it appeared Northwestern would take that lead into the intermission. But the Tar Heels’ Laura Zimmerman notched her second of the game with one second remaining on the clock as the teams went into the locker room tied at four. Unlike the earlier meeting in Evanston, however, the late Tar Heel goal seemed to spark the Wildcat offense early in the second half. Goals off the sticks of Smith and Frank in the opening 1:39 pushed Northwestern’s advantage to two at 6-4.The second half then turned into a shooting gallery similar to the first meeting between the two teams. Northwestern and North Carolina combined for nine goals over the next 13 minutes, all of which were unassisted, with the Wildcats holding a 10-9 lead at the midway point of the second half off a pair of goals from Spencer and one each from Fitzgerald and Dowd. From there, Northwestern gained possession and began to pull away from the Tar Heels. Goals from Smith, Frank and Matthews extended Northwestern’s lead to four at 13-9 before Dowd put an exclamation mark on the game, breaking a North Carolina double-team behind the net and slipping her third of the game past Ripley to put the Wildcats up 14-9 with three minutes to go.The Tar Heels tried to mount one last rally, trimming the deficit to four at 14-10, but Fitzgerald slammed the door closed, finishing off a feed from sophomore Kendall Santulli (Hinsdale, Ill./Central) to propel the Wildcats into Sunday’s championship game.Northwestern held the advantage in nearly every statistical category, outshooting North Carolina 34-21 while holding a 17-15 edge in ground balls. The two teams finished even with 12 turnovers and played much crisper lacrosse in the second half as the Wildcats committed 11 first half turnovers to the Tar Heels’ 10.Sophomore goalkeeper Brianne LoManto (Miller Place, N.Y./Rocky Point) finished with seven saves on the night for the Wildcats, including three in the closing minutes to keep the North Carolina rally at bay. Freshman Gabriella Flibotte (Cohasset, Mass./Groton School) had a big day defensively for Northwestern, causing a pair of turnovers with four ground balls. Fitzgerald and Frank also added three draw controls each for NU.It was a great night for lacrosse at Johnny Unitas stadium as 8,762 fans attended the semifinal, marking the largest crowd to watch a women’s lacrosse game in the United States.Northwestern is now one game away from hoisting its sixth consecutive national championship, but has arguably its toughest challenge ahead of it. In a game that many in the lacrosse world have been waiting for, top-ranked Maryland awaits the Wildcats Sunday after taking care of Syracuse 14-5 in the day’s first semifinal. It marks the first meeting between the two powerhouses since 2007 and marks the first time Amonte Hiller will take on her alma mater and former teammate Cathy Reese in the NCAA tournament.Sunday’s opening draw is set for 4:30 p.m. CT at Johnny Unitas Stadium

Price is right for Sox who beat Rays 4-2


ST. PETERSBURG—Freddy Garcia rebounded from a subpar start and beat one of baseball’s top young pitchers.Garcia outpitched David Price, and Alex Rios hit a two-run homer to help the White Sox beat the Tampa Bay Rays 4-2 on Friday night.Garcia (4-3) won for the fourth time in his last five starts, giving up two runs and four hits in seven innings. The right-hander was coming a loss Sunday to Florida where he was touched for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings.Garcia is 8-2 in his career against Tampa Bay. He struck seven out and walked two on Friday.The 24-year-old Price (7-2), coming up short in his bid to become the AL’s first eight-game winner, allowed three runs, four hits, four walks and had four strikeouts over seven innings. His other loss this season also came against the White Sox in a 4-1 loss in Chicago on April 20.Matt Thornton worked the final 1 1/3 innings for his second save.Bobby Jenks was not availble after tweaking his right calf during batting practice and is day to day.Joey Cora filled in for manager Ozzie Guillen, who was attending the high school graduation of his son, Ozney, in Florida.Rios put the Sox ahead 2-1 in the fourth with his 10th homer. He has three home runs and seven RBI during an eight-game hitting streak.Ramon Castro made it 3-1 with a fifth-inning solo homer. Gordon Beckham hit a run-scoring single in the ninth to extend the lead to 4-2.The Rays went up 1-0 in the third when B.J. Upton tripled and scored on a single by Reid Brignac. Evan Longoria pulled Tampa Bay within 3-2 with an RBI double during the sixth.

Wells shelled, Cards romp to easy win

An early-morning arrival from San Diego forced the Cardinals to miss some sleep, but they sure didn’t look very sluggish at the plate.”Slugging” might be a better word to describe them.Six straight batters got hits off Randy Wells, and St. Louis jumped out to a big early lead that Chris Carpenter made stand up in a 7-1 rout on Friday. Ryan Ludwick added a two-run homer in the ninth for St. Louis. Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina each drove in a pair of runs, and Colby Rasmus also had an RBI for the Cardinals, who knocked Wells from the game after only 16 pitches. He allowed five runs on six hits without retiring a batter, and St. Louis sent nine to the plate. James Russell finally got out of the inning, but the damage was done.The six consecutive hits given up by the Cubs was the most since 1975, when Philadelphia hammered starter Bill Bonham for seven straight hits without an out. The Phillies beat the Cubs 13-5 in that game at Veterans Stadium.Carpenter kept the Cubs at bay when he finally took the mound, scattering seven hits over 6 2/3 innings with five strikeouts and one walk. The only run he allowed came on Tyler Colvin’s pinch-hit homer in the fifth, the first of his career.The victory was the second straight for St. Louis, and came in the first meeting of the season between the NL Central rivals.The outcome of the first meeting of NL Central rivals this season wasn’t in doubt after the first inning, when Felipe Lopez started the barrage against Wells. Ludwick followed with a double and Pujols drove in a pair with his single to center. Matt Holliday also singled and Rasmus made it 4-0 with his two-run single to right.Molina capped the scoring with a two-run double, knocking Wells from the game.Wells has lost three of his last five starts and hasn’t won a decision since April 30, but his biggest problem has been consistency, not necessarily his pitching. He was knocked out of a game May 6 at Pittsburgh when he allowed six runs in two innings, but also lasted at least eight innings in two of his last four outings.Russell and the rest of the bullpen kept the damage from getting much worse. Bob Howry, Jeff Stevens and Carlos Zambrano combined to pitch four scoreless innings, before John Grabow allowed Ludwick’s two-run homer in the ninth.Meanwhile, Carpenter was breezing along after a shaky start.The 2005 Cy Young winner allowed singles to the first two batters he faced, but got some help when Kosuke Fukudome was caught stealing. After issuing a walk to Aramis Ramirez, Carpenter got Alfonso Soriano to hit an inning-ending fly ball to center.Carpenter was finally lifted in the seventh, and the bullpen took care of the rest, allowing only one hit over the final 2 1/3 innings.

Niemann shuts down Sox as Rays win 5-1


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.