CHICAGO (AP) — Jose Abreu is not going to let the pressure get to him.
The touted rookie from Cuba hit a game-winning grand slam with two outs in the ninth inning for his second home run of the night, rallying the Chicago White Sox past the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 on Friday.
Evan Longoria’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth put Tampa Bay ahead 6-4, but the White Sox weren’t done. Abreu’s drive off closer Grant Balfour (0-1) won it after Chicago pitchers combined for 11 walks.
Abreu, who signed a $68 million, six-year contract in the offseason, finished with three hits and six RBIs. He became the first rookie in major league history to hit nine home runs by the end of April.
“I really didn’t have any expectations. As a matter of fact, I was talking to Albert Pujols during spring training and he told me, ‘Hey, don’t worry about hitting the home runs early in the season since it’s your first season and all that,'” Abreu said through a translator. “So I wasn’t trying to hit them — they have just happened.”
Balfour gave up a one-out double to Alejandro De Aza in the ninth, then walked Tyler Flowers and pinch-hitter Paul Konerko. As Konerko trotted to first, Balfour and Konerko exchanged words.
“I don’t know. I know his thing after every pitch, he comes way in. Likes to get the ball, likes to stare at you, stare at the hitter,” Konerko said. “That’s fine, no big deal. You know that’s what he likes to do. After I walked there, he is close to me, eye contact was made and I start to run down the line and I heard yelling. I don’t know what he was yelling about. I was just trying to make sure it wasn’t toward my direction. That’s really it. I think he was probably yelling at himself to get going or get better. When someone that close is yelling, you want to find out why.”
Balfour said he wasn’t trying to show up Konerko.
“I’m angry at myself, so if he wants to yell at me, whatever. I wasn’t yelling at him. I was frustrated by the fact I missed by 6 feet back there,” Balfour said. “This is a frustrating night for me. I know I’m better than that. So I’ll come back tomorrow and turn the page. If I get an opportunity, go out there and get it done.”
Adam Eaton hit a grounder to second base, but Tampa Bay was unable to turn the double play after getting a force at second. Rays manager Joe Maddon challenged the call, but Eaton clearly beat the throw to first and the ruling was upheld on replay.
Balfour walked Marcus Semien to load the bases again and Abreu drove an 0-1 pitch to right-center for his ninth home run.
“Pretty impressive. Really a big, strong fella with a controlled attitude at the plate that’s not a wild swinger. You have to make good pitches to him or he’s going to hurt you like he did tonight,” Maddon said. “It’s not fun when that happens, but I’m still going to go out for my Guinness tonight regardless.”
Matt Joyce drew his team-record fifth walk of the game leading off the ninth against White Sox reliever Matt Lindstrom (2-1). Longoria followed with his third home run of the season to center to break a 4-all tie.
Tyler Flowers had two hits and two RBIs for the White Sox in the opener of a four-game series. Chicago starter Erik Johnson couldn’t get out of the second inning.
The Rays tied a club mark by drawing 11 walks.
Tampa Bay starter Chris Archer pitched six-plus innings. He allowed four runs and nine hits.
With the Rays trailing 1-0 in the second, Yunel Escobar and Ryan Hanigan hit back-to-back RBI singles. Ben Zobrist followed with an RBI double.
Johnson was chased after walking Joyce with the bases loaded on his 39th pitch of the inning, giving the Rays a 4-1 lead. The Rays batted around against Johnson in the second.
Abreu hit a solo shot in the third and the White Sox tied it in the fourth when Flowers lined a two-run single with the bases loaded. But a baserunning gaffe by Chicago prevented a potentially bigger inning.
Eaton grounded back to Archer, who caught De Aza between third and home. De Aza was eventually tagged out in a rundown, then Flowers was tagged out while trying to go to third.
The Rays had the bases loaded with one out in the fifth, but Hanigan grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“It’s one of those games, if you permit it to fester, it will, and if you don’t permit it, it won’t,” Maddon said. “So for me, it’s a loss and a loss is a loss is a loss. Of course, we really had a chance to win that game, but you’ve got to come and play tomorrow — you don’t get a week off.”
After missing five games with a mild left knee strain, Eaton led off the first inning with a single and stole second. He later scored on Abreu’s single.
NOTES: Before the game, the White Sox claimed reliever Hector Noesi off waivers from Texas. He is expected to throw a bullpen before Saturday’s game. … Rays LHP Cesar Ramos will start Saturday in place of LHP Matt Moore, who had Tommy John surgery Tuesday.
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