Fine start unravels for Garza
Right-hander was focused, but White Sox were locked in
CHICAGO -- Taking on the White Sox and their powerful lineup is hard enough for a pitcher. On Sunday, Rays starter Matt Garza also had to contend with the elements at a rowdy U.S. Cellular Field.
The crowd created a dizzying sea of spinning white towels, rocked the stadium with loud cheers and made for an intimidating atmosphere during Tampa Bay's 5-3 loss to Chicago in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
There was a rain delay that pushed the game's start time back roughly 40 minutes. Then, early in the game, Garza was spotted wearing earplugs -- possibly in an attempt to drown out the decibels. In the fifth inning, he was forced to call on the grounds crew to fix a problematic hole on the mound.
In the wake of the loss, though, the general consensus around the Rays was that Garza was able to maintain his focus throughout all the issues. On this evening, it was more about how the White Sox performed in the batter's box than what Garza wasn't able to do out on the hill.
"He handled it great," Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro said. "He pitched a great game. I think he did a great job. They're a great team -- they can hit. They hit some good pitches in some good situations."
Or, as far as Garza was concerned, he misplaced some pitches at key points in the loss.
"There weren't really any problems," Garza said. "Tonight, I had a lack of execution. I didn't do my job. The team gave me the three runs I needed, so it's all on me."
When Garza did run into trouble, it began with early-inning control issues. In the third inning, after Garza had limited Chicago to a harmless single in the opening two frames, he issued a leadoff walk to left fielder Dewayne Wise. Three batters later, Wise crossed home plate on a base hit from A.J. Pierzynski to knot the score at 1.
In the fourth inning, Garza tried to place the pitch of the frame inside to White Sox slugger Jim Thome, but left the offering over the heart of the plate. Thome did what he's paid to do, sending the ill-fated pitch crashing off the wall in right-center field for a leadoff double. Garza proceeded to load the bases with no outs.
Following a run-scoring sacrifice fly from Chicago's Alexei Ramirez, Wise sliced a pitch down the left-field line, just past Rays third baseman Evan Longoria for a double. That plated a pair of runs to put the White Sox ahead for good, 4-1.
"Wise hit a good pitch," Garza said with a shrug. "He really doesn't go out there too often and I threw a two-seamer away and he just poked it over Longoria's head -- that's all it was. It wasn't a huge deal."
The only other run scored by the White Sox came in the sixth inning, when Garza issued another leadoff walk -- this time to Ken Griffey Jr. In all, Garza walked four and struck out four in his six innings of work. It wasn't his best showing, but Garza could have easily caved under the pressure-packed circumstances early on.
"Overall, I thought he threw the ball well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had good stuff. He gave us a chance to win."
Maybe, but Garza was hardly happy with his performance.
"It's real frustrating," he said. "It's something you've got to live with. There's not much you can say. I had a good game plan and I didn't really stray to far from it. They really didn't adjust too well -- a poke here and there. But that's all it took."
As far as the earplugs were concerned, Garza said he was using them to help fight a head cold, and he removed them after the fourth inning after becoming too hot with them in.
Garza added that the mound, which caused some issues for him in the fifth inning, wasn't a factor in his command problems. While warming up in the middle of the frame, Garza had troubled with his footing. The pitcher's left foot kept slipping during his delivery due to a large hole on the mound.
While the grounds crew worked on the hill for several minutes, the crowd rained boos down on Garza.
"They kind of argued it out with the shovel," Maddon said. "Then he got better footing at that point."
Not that it mattered. The damage had already been done.
Now, the Rays -- still holding a 2-1 edge over the White Sox in this best-of-five series -- are hoping to recover with a victory in Game 4 on Monday.
"We're still right where we need to be," Garza said. "We're still in the driver's seat. We're going to come out tomorrow and play hard for nine and see what happens."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.