Rays head to AL championship series

CHICAGO - B.J. Upton and these Tampa Bay Rays are headed home - to get ready for the American League championship series.

Worst in the majors last year, the Rays will play for a spot in the World Series after finishing off the Chicago White Sox 6-2 Monday in Game 4 of the AL playoffs.


Upton homered twice, Andy Sonnanstine pitched a solid 52/3 innings and manager Joe Maddon's surprising Rays won 3-1 in the best-of-five series - their first trip to the postseason. Next up, the Boston Red Sox or the Los Angeles Angels starting Friday.

'We feel like we belong and it's showing right now,' Upton said.

After staving off elimination several times and winning a tiebreaker for the AL Central title, the White Sox were finally knocked out.

The loss dashed Chicago's hope for a championship - days ago, local fans were thinking the Cubs and White Sox might meet in a Windy City Classic. But the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers and now both teams are done.

'They played better than us. There's no doubt. They pitched better. They execute better. They got big hits,' White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. 'They really did a tremendous job.'

Upton, the game's second batter, homered to left-center to put the Rays ahead. He went deep again in the third, driving a full-count pitch from Gavin Floyd to center, and the confident Rays had a two-run cushion.

Tampa Bay, which never won more than 70 games during its 10 previous seasons, went from 96 losses last year to 97 wins and passed the big-spending Red Sox and New York Yankees in the AL East.

'It's a gratifying moment for all of us,' Maddon said.

No longer bedeviled, the Rays won all year with young talent and improved pitching.