Tampa Bay Rays
Garza rocks Sox, gives Rays badly-needed boost
ST. PETERSBURG - Maybe a little bit of that magic survived after all. Desperate for a spark that would provide some forward momentum as they closed out a sluggish opening month, the Rays got more than they could have asked for as the Red Sox came to town. In his first start against Boston at Tropicana Field since the triumphant Game 7 of last year's ALCS, Matt Garza dominated again, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning as the Rays rolled 13-0 for their biggest shutout victory. Garza fired strike after strike - 75 of them in 108 pitches - and in particular owned the inside corner against Boston's right-handers. Fastball or breaking ball, it didn't matter; the Red Sox couldn't do anything with him."He really just looked as good as the results indicated," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "He was just phenomenal tonight." Even the lone hit the Red Sox managed was of the excuse-me variety. Leading off the seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a soft liner back at the mound that just eluded Garza's outstretched glove and trickled toward a charging Jason Bartlett. But the shortstop had no chance to throw out the speedy leadoff man and ended up sprawled on the turf. "I saw it float by, so I dove and I just watched the ball miss my glove by inches and I'm like, 'Ohhhh...Barty!'" Garza said. "He almost made a great play there, and that lets you know your guys are right behind you." The bulk of a crowd of 20,341 was as well, rising to give Garza the first of two standing ovations after Ellsbury became the latest opposing batter to deny the Rays their first no-no. The deepest a Tampa Bay pitcher has carried a no-hitter is 7 2/3 innings, accomplished by Tony Saunders against the Orioles in 1999 and Dewon Brazelton against the Marlins in 2004. Garza was well aware of what was going on as he retired the first nine, 12, 15 and finally 18 Red Sox batters in a row, and even if he wasn't it would have been obvious from all the baseball superstition that kicked in on the Rays' bench. "That was weird," Garza said. "The first few innings there was a lot of chatter and then about the fifth, sixth inning nobody said anything. I was like, man, I'm trying to start a conversation with people here and people didn't want to talk. But that's the way the game is. If it happens to us again, I'm going to be the same way to the other guy - quiet and not say a word to the guy." Of course, if it happens again, it might very well be Garza everyone is avoiding. The Rays have seen this kind of outing before from the hard-throwing right-hander in his short tenure with the team, as he turned in a pair of similar performances last season. On June 26 in Miami, Garza had a no-hitter through six against the Marlins but lost it when Hanley Ramirez led off the seventh with a home run. And Aug. 15 at Texas, Garza held the Rangers hitless through 5 2/3 before Ian Kinsler singled to break it up. Garza finished off both of those efforts for complete games, but his pitch count didn't allow him that luxury Thursday. When Garza fanned Bay for the second out in the eighth - his 10th strikeout - Maddon emerged from the dugout to allow his starter a slow walk off the field in the midst of another ovation. "If they did not get that one hit, I would have let him go 125, 130 pitches if it would have taken something like that," Maddon said. There was no need to push him given the margin at that point, though. The Rays led 8-0 and Boston manager Terry Francona had begun pulling his veteran position players in the sixth with the perfect game still intact. That concession came courtesy of the Rays' pounding of Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, who was left to wear a bit more than might otherwise have been expected given all the work Boston's bullpen just had in a tough series at Cleveland. The Rays' deconstruction of Beckett started inconspicuously, with infield hits by Bartlett and B.J. Upton in the third and Carl Crawford drawing a walk to load the bases. That brought Evan Longoria to the plate and he guided a 2-1 pitch to the opposite-field gap in right-center to clear the bases. Two batters later, Pat Burrell also went the other way for a single that scored Longoria and give the Rays all the runs they would need. After adding on in the middle innings, the Rays turned it into a true laugher in the eighth, which saw Red Sox outfielder Jonathan Van Every come on to pitch and surrender the hit that scored the last of the five runs the Rays tallied in that frame. It came on a double by Michel Hernandez, his fourth consecutive hit in a string that began with a homer off Beckett in the fourth. The 30-year-old backup catcher had six hits - all singles - in his big-league career. "He had a great month tonight," Maddon said. And Garza had one of those nights he'll always remember. Of course he wanted the no-hitter, but he wasn't too worked up about it afterward. "It happens," he said. "One-hit, no-hit - it's better than losing."
Reporter Marc Lancaster can be reached at (813) 259-7227.