Garza builds on Rays' road magic in win
Tampa Bay will play for series sweep at Fenway Park
BOSTON -- Perhaps the breath mints on the pillows have improved, maybe the mattresses are firmer or the in-room movies have been upgraded. Who knows what, if anything, has changed, but the Rays suddenly find the road agreeable.
On Sunday, the Rays moved to 6-0 away from Tropicana Field after defeating the Red Sox, 7-1, with 37,143 watching at Fenway Park. By not losing in a week, the Rays' record improved to 9-3 on the season, keeping them in a tie with the Yankees for first place in the American League East.
After finishing the 2009 season with a record that reflected problems on the road, manager Joe Maddon stressed the importance of getting off to a good start away from home this season. And that the Rays have.
"It's one of those things we've been talking about, that we have to get better at," Maddon said. "It's a nice way to start it. Obviously a long way to go, but the thing I'm liking is the intensity of the group -- they're focused, their businesslike approach on a daily basis, playing hard."
Sunday's win clinched a rare series win over the Red Sox in Boston. The only other time the Rays won more than two straight games at Fenway Park came in 1999 when they won four straight over two road trips. The Rays are now perched on the brink of winning every game of a series from their division rival at Fenway Park for only the second time in team history. The Rays took a two-game set at Fenway Park on June 30-July 1, 1999.
Matt Garza started for the Rays and brought no-hit stuff to the mound for his third start of the season. The 26-year-old right-hander dominated from the beginning, retiring the first nine hitters he faced before Marco Scutaro drew a leadoff walk to start the fourth. The Red Sox remained hitless through 4 2/3 innings until Adrian Beltre slapped a ball off the Green Monster in left. He wasn't on the bases long, as he was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.
"His stuff was tremendous," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said of Garza. "He threw his fastball with some velocity, and his breaking ball and changeup. We didn't have a lot of runners on base, then when he did, he really kept the ball down in the zone and got us to roll over, got the double play with [Jeremy] Hermida, then the tapper back to the mound. He wasn't out of the stretch a lot, but when he was, he was down in the zone very effectively."
When asked about Garza's performance, Rays catcher Dioner Navarro replied: "Strike one."
"That's the only thing. That's the best thing -- establish his fastball early in the game. He didn't mess around too much, and he attacked the strike zone," Navarro said. "After that it was just so much easier. ... When he needed to make a pitch, he made a pitch. He's got such great stuff. He stays under control like he did today, he's going to be very helpful for us."
Garza has seen enough of the Red Sox to know they are a team that likes to take a lot of pitches.
"They're like the Yankees -- they're going to try and work that pitch count up, and try and get the starter out early," Garza said. "So I knew I had to go after them and go after them early. And that's what we had to do, was set a tone. So I did get a lot of first-pitch swinging outs. And that was a huge plus that got me deeper into the game."
Garza allowed no runs on four hits in eight innings to pick up his third win of the season and lower his ERA to 0.75, extending what's been a very strong, and apparently rare, start to the season. He's the first pitcher to start a season with three consecutive outings of at least eight innings pitched, allowing one earned run or fewer, since Curt Schilling did it for Philadelphia in 1998. He's also the first American League pitcher to do so since Boston's Roger Clemens in 1991.
Garza has made 15 career starts against Boston, including two in the postseason, and has an 8-2 record with a 2.71 ERA. He has a Major League-leading seven quality starts against the Red Sox since the 2008 campaign.
When Garza wasn't mowing down the Red Sox, the Rays' defense picked him up by contributing three double plays.
"It's a great defense to throw in front of," Garza said. "Balls that get tracked down like they do, and ground balls that they got to, double-plays that were turned where you're thinking just get one -- it's a huge thing to pitch in front of the other seven guys there."
Meanwhile, the Rays' offense got busy early against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton led the Rays by hitting two-run homers in the second and sixth innings, respectively. Each of the homers cleared the center-field wall and landed on a platform several feet from each other.
Pena's homer might have been the most important blow for the Rays' offense, because it came after a first inning that saw Lester strike out the side.
"That kind of kicked it off right there," said Upton, who now has three home runs in his last four games. "It kind of snowballed from there. ... I didn't think anybody looked really overmatched up there. Everybody had pretty good ABs, and we got pretty good results."
Maddon is pleased with the way his team is playing.
"We pitched so well. The defense was absolutely superb, great plays all over the place -- and then, of course, the home runs," Maddon said. "Carlos really touched that one, and B.J. same with his. Those balls were mangled. They were well struck. But I just loved the tone of the game. ... Pretty nice game."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.