ST. PETERSBURG -- The White Sox had starting pitcher Jose Quintana ejected after 3 2/3 innings, manager Robin Ventura tossed along with him and center fielder Alejandro De Aza exit after taking a ball off his knee while diving back to second base in the sixth inning on Wednesday.
Paul Konerko, who entered the series on a 23-for-35 tear with an average nearing .400, managed only two hits while striking out six times and grounding into two double plays over the three-game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field. The White Sox ended their stretch of 15 straight games with a home run on Wednesday, too.
But the South Siders held on to extend their winning streak, beating Tampa Bay, 4-3, in the series finale Wednesday afternoon before a crowd of 13,369. The victory stretched Chicago's winning streak to a season-high eight games and helped the club maintain sole possession of first place in the American League Central.
The White Sox hadn't won eight straight games since July 4-15, 2010, when they won nine in a row, and hadn't recorded consecutive series sweeps since Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2010. Everything went right during the weekend sweep of the Indians at home in which Chicago scored 35 runs over three games. But the White Sox took just as much pride in winning a few low-scoring games and grinding out victories against Tampa Bay.
"We had a bunch of hits, a bunch of runs [this weekend]. Usually, after something like that, you go 180 degrees the other way," Konerko said. "We didn't stay quite as hot as a team, but it was nice to get the wins after we kind of cooled off a little bit."
"Usually the mentality is to kind of win the series, two out of three, stuff like that," said Ventura after his first ejection as a manager. "When a team gets the feeling that we have, you feel like you have it within your grasp. You want to be able to close it out. The bullpen came in and did it for us."
The bullpen had to come through, because Quintana was ejected in the fourth inning for throwing behind Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist. Tampa Bay right-hander Alex Cobb had hit A.J. Pierzynski in the third on what the catcher described as a "pretty standard 0-0 pitch," but Quintana insisted that the pitch to Zobrist simply got away from him as he was preparing to throw a fastball, then saw Pierzynski signal for a changeup.
Ventura came out to argue the ejection, which was made immediately after the pitch and with no prior warnings to either team, and he got tossed as well.
"I've never seen anything like it. I don't know how to explain it," Ventura said. "I was shocked. Usually, if the [umpire] feels it's intent, he gives the warning, then it goes from there. It just shocked me."
The Rays disagreed.
"It was pretty obvious that he was trying to throw at me, that's all. I think the umpire knew that, too, and he made a good call, because it was so obvious," said Zobrist, who was spiked by Pierzynski on a late slide in the second inning of Tuesday night's 7-2 win. "It was smart of [home-plate umpire Mark Wegner] to just make that call without having any warnings to either bench. It was obvious."
But the White Sox moved forward, continuing the theme of their current hot stretch by generating runs from the bottom of their lineup. Alex Rios went 2-for-5 with an RBI, Dayan Viciedo finished 3-for-4 with an RBI and Alexei Ramirez went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs. Wednesday was Viciedo's second straight three-hit game, and he has raised his batting average from .196 on May 13, to .291 heading into Thursday's off-day.
While Chicago wasn't able to hit a homer for the 16th straight game, the Rays scored all their runs via the long ball. Luke Scott went deep off Quintana in the second inning, and Carlos Pena hit a two-run shot off reliever Nate Jones in the sixth to cut the lead to 4-3.
But Jones picked up the win, as he struck out three over two innings, and Pena's homer was the only knock against the White Sox bullpen. Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Addison Reed combined for 3 1/3 shutout innings, giving Chicago's relief corps a 1.89 ERA over its past 10 games.
"All these games are important, but the way the bullpen pitched today was tremendous, from Jonesy to Thornton to Crain to Addy," Pierzynski said. "We've liked our bullpen from Day 1, and hopefully they can continue to be aggressive and get guys out."
If they do, and if the lineup stays hot, the White Sox believe they can keep rolling off wins. And they don't have to be bashing homers and having everything go their way to do it, as they showed Wednesday.
"It was awesome," Reed said. "Everything that happened in today's game, we kind of wanted it a little more than the other ones. We pulled it off, and it feels good."