Martin Fennelly Columns
For Rays, better play would say more than bean balls
ST. PETERSRBUG - The Rays threw everything they had at the first-place Yankees on Wednesday night. They threw Matt Garza. Garza threw Hideki Matsui's bat, And he threw the baseball at Mark Teixeira, hitting him on purpose.Garza said so afterward. That is going to cost him money, maybe even time off. It was stupid to throw the bat. It was stupid to admit hitting Teixeira. But the real price was in the final score at Tropicana Field. In a game they had to have, the Rays had next to nothing in a 6-2 loss. The Yankees were clearly too busy widening their AL East lead to get caught up in all the anger. All the Rays had Wednesday was a red-hot Garza going batty, those Bates Motel moments. What's next? Bring back Elliott Johnson to run over another Yankees catcher at home plate? Remember when feisty really stood for something? It can't just be getting angry. It wasn't last season - the Rays backed it up with their play. Not so now. It's just a hollow kind of feisty these days. Tampa Bay won't see the Yankees again until September in New York, and by then the Rays might need binoculars to make them out. Beserk-o baseball did not work Wednesday. It's as if the Rays were trying to replay their greatest hits from the 2008 season, those won't-back-down world beaters. Only no one is listening right now. The Yankees sure aren't. Their lead over the Rays is back to 7½ games. The last thing this team needs right now is Garza with a screw loose. Enough things are coming apart as it is. And we haven't even reached the trade deadline, when the Yankees and Red Sox will act. The Rays, having sunk their money into Pat Burrell - and we mean sunk - will doubtless be in the studio audience. They had their chance to participate in this series, but it was the Yankees who took two of three to leave town with a bigger lead then when they arrived. Maybe Garza was looking for a spark, for anything. But the Rays need more than blown fuses. They need points of light. They need wins - lots of wins. It all started when Garza, who didn't pitch all that badly (seven innings, three runs) gave up a fourth-inning double to Matsui, whose bat flew out in front of the plate. Garza grabbed the lumber, a la Roger Clemens' 2000 World Series, and heaved it toward the Yankees' on-deck circle. The lumber sailed wide, though, and rolled right up to the Yankees' dugout, where manager Joe Girardi and his coaches just shook their heads. Maybe it was a coincidence, but in the bottom of the fourth, Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain threw in the general direction of Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, who ducked. Garza would have none of that. He hit Teixeira in the shoulder area in the fifth. Teixeira didn't make too much out of it, not then, not after the game, though he found time in the ninth to blast his 26th home run. "It's about time someone made a statement," Garza said. "I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say we're tired of it. You go after our best guy? Well, we will make some noise, too, and that is what happened." It all sounds so tinny. This isn't last year, when the upstart Rays refused to be bullied by the Yankees or the Red Sox. These are the underachieving Rays, and they should have better things to do, such as begin to get truly back in this race. Want to make a statement? Get some hits. The Rays managed three against Chamberlain, and only Longoria's two-run homer in the ninth prevented a shutout. Want to make a statement? Get more production out of Carlos Pena, who is striking out at a maddening clip. Lately, his swings have made him look like a [Rob] Deer caught in the headlights. Want to make a statement? Get any production out of Burrell and Dioner Navarro. Want to make a statement? Hit better, pitch better, field better, Win Wednesday's game. Win the series. Instead, we had nutty Matt Garza, not Texas crazy like last season, when he and Navarro nearly came to blows, with the aftershocks scaring Garza straight to make him a straight arrow and bulldog pitcher down the stretch and into the postseason. No, this was just nutty, and it did no good. The Rays don't need those kind of statements right now. They're fighting to climb back in the playoff chase. They don't need to throw bats or bean balls at the Yankees. They need to throw wins at them - lots of wins.