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Thursday, April 7, 2011
Updated: April 8, 11:38 AM ET
Jackson sizzles in a blustery opener

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- It had to feel a little greedy for White Sox fans to be anything less than gleeful this week.

Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson baffled the Rays, striking out 13 hitters on Thursday.
After all, their team had won three of the first five games of the 2011 season and on the road. They had showed they could rally from behind, score in bunches and basically hit the innards out of the ball.

So what if their pitching staff had 22 appearances in their first five games?

Did we mention they could rally from behind?

Just the same, Thursday was a breath of fresh -- if not exceptionally cold -- air before a sellout crowd in the home opener at U.S. Cellular, as Edwin Jackson's eight-inning, one-run, 13-strikeout gem led the Sox to a 5-1 victory over hapless and winless Tampa Bay.

"He was awesome today and we needed that," said Gordon Beckham. "The last couple games have been rough, we used a lot of pitchers and we needed somebody to come in there and just really shut somebody down, and Edwin did that. He did exactly what we needed."

The Sox have now given up less than seven runs in exactly two of their six games, and Jackson pitched  and won -- both of them.

For one of those guys whose potential, not to mention pitch count, always seems to be talked about more than his ability, Thursday's performance made that discussion seem superfluous, despite his 120 pitches (and 78 strikes).

"He got to the point where I was like, 'We're almost in danger here. We need to make sure he gets out of it.' But he got out of it," said catcher A.J. Pierzynski. "He made pitches when he had to. You want to see a guy finish an inning and have a nice feeling when he walks off, and he did that. At the same time, the goal is to win the game and they made the right call."

Sergio Santos, who didn't allow a run in spring training, entered in the ninth and allowed two hits but no runs, and that was that.

It was a warm and fuzzy day in many ways, with fans expressing their love in ovations for the returning Paul Konerko and Pierzynski, and manager Ozzie Guillen, in his own unique way, doing just the same.

"I expect a nice ovation," Ozzie said before the game. "PK has been here for so long and A.J., everybody in Chicago likes A.J. and I don't know why. Maybe because he's Irish. ... "

In a fun-loving victorious clubhouse afterward, Pierzynski got in a decent retort -- "Ozzie's Mexican, isn't he?" -- before diving into the lovefest.

"[Ozzie's] been great for me, been special for me," the Sox catcher said. "I love Ozzie to death, love his family to death and I have nothing but all the respect in the world for him and hopefully we'll be here together for a long time."

Again, real hard to be too greedy at this point, even as Jake Peavy readies for his first of at least five rehab starts at Double-A Birmingham on Friday.

As an added bonus Thursday, the Sox did not need to call on Adam Dunn to pinch hit. The Sox's new designated hitter may have just attempted it one day after his emergency appendectomy in Kansas City.

Conjuring images of a bloodied Roy Hobbs in "The Natural," Dunn is clearly going to be tons of fun.

"The timetable is tomorrow now," the dejected Sox DH said before the game. "I just had to push it back a day. ... That's what I'm shooting for.

"I'm hoping the training staff can get this thing zipped up so we can go out and be productive.''

In the meantime, Jackson, his wondrous slider and the Sox's potent lineup, which gave the pitcher a two-run cushion after the first inning, was good enough. Jackson had two strikeouts in each of the first five innings, mowing down a Rays' team he no-hit the last time he faced them.

"I really didn't know how many [strikeouts] I had," Jackson said. "If you would have asked me an exact number, I probably wouldn't have been close. My main objective is get outs any way I can, either putting the ball in play or strikeouts."

The strikes, not necessarily the strikeouts, were key.

"I remember facing him and you didn't want him to get ahead of you because then you knew, 'Oh boy, I've got to try and hit his slider,' and this is as good as any slider there is," Pierzynski said.

"Once we got the lead, he just got better and better as the game went on."

There will be down days, of course, Guillen half-jokingly reminding everyone that as he made the Sox's PR staff promise they'd make Jackson do postgame interviews when he gets his rear end kicked too.

It's easy to joke around here right now.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.