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Nightmare ninth for Sox closer Matt Thornton

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Home runs have been a trusted White Sox ally at U.S. Cellular Field for years. Since 2004, no team has hit more homers at home than the Sox, whose total since then is 868, including three on Friday from Gordon Beckham, Mark Teahen and Alexei Ramirez.

But the biggest homer was the one hit by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ninth, a three-run drive that was Dan Johnson’s first of the season off closer Matt Thornton — and the one that wiped out what had looked like a Sox victory and instead gave the Rays a 9-7 win, their first of the season.

Thornton’s second blown save of the season came in painful fashion, with the Sox ahead 7-5 after Teahen’s two-run single in the eighth provided an extra cushion for what had been a 5-4 lead. Teahen’s big night as the designated hitter started with his first homer of the season in the fourth off starter James Shields. Beckham and Ramirez each hit their first homers as well off Shields, with Beckham later adding a pair of doubles as well.

But Thornton ran into trouble immediately when the Sox’ defense went awry. A throwing error by Ramirez allowed Elliot Johnson (single) to score, and it was followed by Juan Pierre’s error in left on Johnny Damon’s fly ball. Upton singled, and Johnson followed with his homer, accounting for five unearned runs against Thornton (0-1).

“Other than the homer, I thought I was throwing well,’’ Thornton said.

“We played very good baseball until the ninth,’’ manager Ozzie Guillen said. “You feel comfortable with a [two-run] lead in the ninth. . . . That’s a game to save or lose, but obviously we didn’t help ourselves. He gave up the runs, but we didn’t help him.’’

Guillen said he has no plans to change Thornton’s closer role. “He’ll get most of the save situations,” Guillen said. “[There were] a couple broken-bat hits, and the only ball hit hard was the home run. We made a couple mistakes, and that was the game. We played very bad baseball in the ninth.’’

The ending kept starter John Danks winless on a night he lasted six innings. A run scored in the seventh on Damon’s force against reliever Jesse Crain, but Crain struck out Upton and retired Johnson to end the inning and keep Danks in line for the victory.

The Rays’ 0-6 start before Friday tied the 1997 Cardinals for the worst start by a defending division champion and tied the 1905 Boston Americans for the worst start by a team that had the league’s best record the previous year.

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