Garza leads Rays to series win

Garza leads Rays to series win

ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Garza might not be the ace of the Rays' staff, but he answered the bell like one on Wednesday afternoon to lead a 5-3 win over the Rangers in front of a crowd of 10,927 at Tropicana Field.

With the victory, the Rays claimed their ninth series win in the past 11 series and improved their record on the current homestand to 5-1. The Rays are now 21-9 at home this season and they have won 17 of their last 19 home games (which includes three games against the Blue Jays at Disney). The Rays also preserved the best record in the American League at 32-21 (they entered the game tied with the Cubs for the best record in the Major Leagues).

Garza, who came to the Rays in an offseason trade with the Twins, struck out a season-high 10 batters while pitching eight innings en route to his third straight win.

"Today, he had four pitches working," catcher Shawn Riggans said. "His fastball's got a lot of movement on it. And today, his curveball was there, his slider was there. He threw his changeup in timely situations, too.

"He was moving the ball in and out, up, down, giving the hitter a different look every time. He's going to be tough to beat, and that's a real good hitting ballclub there. He's just going to be tough to beat when he's throwing like that. It was a pleasure to catch him today. ... When he's throwing strikes and gets the other team in a swing mode, he's going to be tough to hit."

After enduring a 12-6 loss Tuesday night, the Rays needed Garza to step up Wednesday, and he did.

"I thought it was a big moment for us that he did do that," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "The bullpen is stretched for us a little bit at this point, and against that team -- they're really good -- Garza did set the tone.

"... That was his best outing of the season. He was really good. ... We think any one of our five guys can do something like that, and to have Garz come out today and do something like that was great."

Garza posted three perfect innings before Milton Bradley singled home two in the fourth, to put the Rangers up 2-1. Despite falling behind, the right-hander did not get rattled. He nailed down the final two outs in the fourth, then pitched four additional scoreless innings.

"I felt great, no doubt about it," Garza said. "Numbers-wise, it was my best outing. I don't want to let those guys down out there."

The Rays took the lead in the fifth when Akinori Iwamura contributed an RBI single and Evan Longoria lifted a sacrifice fly. Carlos Pena and pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd each walked with the bases loaded to drive in runs to give the Rays a 5-2 lead.

Pena's walk came after Rangers starter Kason Gabbard intentionally walked B.J. Upton to load the bases to pitch to Pena with one out and the score tied at 2.

"Initially, you're not happy [about the other team electing to not pitch to you]," Pena said. "But you have to go beyond that and see the ball. And I saw the ball really well on that at-bat. I was able to lay off a couple there that I think he wanted me to swing at."

Five runs were all the Rays needed, although the ninth did bring a few heart palpitations.

Troy Percival came in for Garza to start the ninth with the Rays leading 5-2. He retired two of the first three hitters he faced before leaving the game with tightness in his left hamstring. Dan Wheeler took over and gave up an RBI single to Frank Catalanotto before David Murphy hit a shot to center field. Despite the two-run lead, Upton opted to try to make a play, and he did, diving to haul in the final out to preserve the win.

Tuesday night "hurt," Pena said. "But we just came in here afterward and said, 'Let's go get them [Wednesday].' And that's what we did today. Nice win."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.