Rays roll to 10th straight home victory
Garza goes seven scoreless; Tampa Bay half-game out of first
ST. PETERSBURG -- A reality check never arrived Monday night.
Instead, the Rays administered a 7-1 wakeup call to the Yankees in front of a crowd of 13,932 at Tropicana Field to win their 10th consecutive home game. The win, combined with the Red Sox's loss, tucked the Rays into bed Monday night a half-game out of first place in the American League East with a 22-16 record.
Having won nine consecutive home games -- including the three they played against the Blue Jays at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex -- the young Rays were supposed to return to form once the Yankees came to town for the first game of a four-game series. After all, the Yankees did enter the game with a 57-115 all-time record against the Rays. So if any team could waltz into The Trop and shake up the home team, the Yankees were best suited to do so.
But the Rays pushed down on the accelerator with nary a glance in the rearview mirror, further validating something the AL is quickly learning: These are not the Rays of years past. Pitching, defense and speed were all a part of the winning formula Monday night.
Tampa Bay's 22-16 record is the best in club history after 38 games, and the first time in franchise history the Rays are six games over .500.
Matt Garza made his sixth start of the season for the Rays and peeled through the Yankees' order like New York starter Andy Pettitte normally does whenever he pitches at Tropicana Field. Garza threw seven scoreless innings and allowed just five hits and one walk while striking out three to pick up his first career win at the Rays' home park.
"The game plan was to attack," Garza said. "We went right after them -- a lot of fastballs and made them hit into outs. Keep attacking, and that's what we did."
Pettitte took his first loss at Tropicana Field in nearly 10 years. His last loss under the Teflon dome came Sept. 16, 1998, in a 7-0 loss to Tony Saunders. The veteran left-hander carried a seven-game winning streak at Tropicana Field into Monday night's game and had the look early on that he might extend the streak to eight when he struck out three of the first five hitters he faced.
"I felt great," Pettitte said. "I started off really good."
Jonny Gomes then dropped a single into center field in the second inning and stole second base before scoring on Dioner Navarro's single to put the Rays up, 1-0. Gomes again pushed his way into the middle of things in the fourth with a single to drive home Evan Longoria. Navarro moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt before Gomes stole third base. After Eric Hinske walked, Jason Bartlett tripled home both runners, then scored on Akinori Iwamura's single to right to put the Rays up, 5-0, and chase Pettitte.
"I don't think there was anything different on [Pettitte's] end. I think it's more on our end," said Gomes when asked if Pettitte did anything differently Monday night. "I think you're seeing guys be more aggressive early in the count, hitting his first strike rather than have to battle with two strikes. Pettitte's one of those guys that once you get to two strikes, I mean that at-bat gets a lot tougher."
Garza received stellar support from his defense. Rays infielders turned three double plays, while Iwamura and Carl Crawford displayed above-average speed to pluck balls from the air that normally would have dropped.
"Anytime you get double plays, especially in a home game like that, you just keep making those pitches and keep looking for guys you can set up to get that double play," Garza said. "So it worked out great."
Nobody questions how talented the Rays are. Yankees manager Joe Girardi even went so far as to say of the Rays: "This is a good team." The question circulating in the minds of many is can a team that has suffered as much losing as the Rays remain well-grounded once they turn the corner.
Gomes believes the Rays can learn from the past to move forward.
"I think what's worked with us in the past with losing is helping us out now with winning," Gomes said. "I mean, in the past, we'd get our butts kicked, 13-3, 15-2, and then the next day we'd come out and win a ballgame. I think this team is so good at just cleaning the slate right when you walk out that door. So with us beating some big teams, we're just going to clean our slate and walk out the door."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.