Rays take control of Citrus Series

Rays slide past Marlins

ST. PETERSBURG -- You could definitely call Saturday night's game a growth moment for Matt Garza.

The Rays' 24-year-old right-hander came back strong after an embarrassing moment in his previous start to lead a 4-1 win over the Marlins on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 31,195 at Tropicana Field.

By winning, the Rays moved to 40-28 on the season, remaining 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox in the American League East. Tampa Bay also moved to 3-2 in Interleague competition this season.

Saturday night's Rays battery included Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro, who had been combatants during Sunday's loss to the Rangers. When last seen on the field together, they were engaged in a shoving match in the visiting dugout at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Time heals all wounds, and pitcher and catcher were on the same page against the Marlins. Their chemistry paid rich dividends for the Rays.

"We are always on the same page, even when we fight," Navarro said. "It was great the way he went out tonight. We had a conversation before the game, we stuck with the plan and everything worked out for us."

Garza held the Marlins to one run on three hits with one walk while striking out three to earn his fifth win of the season.

"I think that's a really good-hitting ballclub there," Rays manager Joe Maddon said, while also confirming that he concurred Friday night's game was a growth moment for Garza. "This team can take you deep at any moment, almost the entire lineup. And to do as well as he did tonight against them, I thought was a big moment for him.

"Again, for a growth moment, you've got to learn lessons, and the lesson for me is you don't have to bump and grind all the time to get it done. He's got such good natural movement on his pitches; let the movement work for him, throw strikes and get into better counts. That's what he was doing."

Garza called Saturday night's outing a "huge step for me in the right direction."

"There were times when I started to get upset, but I was able to step off and regroup and then come back and make my pitches," Garza said.

Happily for the battery mates, Sunday is behind them. They've even enjoyed a laugh or two about the episode.

"Yeah, why not, it's something to laugh about now," Garza said. "Wasn't something to laugh about then, but we laughed about it later."

Garza is now 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA at home, and Saturday night's win represented his first career Interleague win. When Garza's success at Tropicana Field was mentioned, Garza offered: "On the road, I've been putting a little too much pressure on myself."

While Garza had nasty stuff, the Rays' defense displayed its customary golden hue. B.J. Upton ran down Mike Jacobs' shot to left-center field, making a running backhanded stab that prevented extra bases in the fourth. And all Evan Longoria did was dive to his right to backhand Alfredo Amezaga's smash before going to his knees and throwing to first to complete the play in the fifth inning.

Tampa Bay had just enough offense to get by Saturday night, scoring three runs against former Rays left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who started for the Marlins and took his fifth loss of the season.

Included in Tampa Bay's attack were four stolen bases in four attempts to increase the team's Major League-leading season total to 79. Upton and Willy Aybar even executed a double steal in the fourth, giving Aybar his first stolen base since June 1, 2006.

But muscle crank started the Rays' offense when Jonny Gomes hit his fifth home run of the season in the second inning to give them a 1-0 lead. The Marlins answered in the fourth, when Jeremy Hermida scored on Jacobs' sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1.

Jason Bartlett's two-run single in the fourth put the Rays up 3-1, and they added another run in the seventh, when Justin Ruggiano hit into a double play that scored Gabe Gross.

The Rays are now 23-10 at home and have won 19 of their past 22 (including a three-game sweep of Toronto at Disney).

Playing at home "seems like it helps all of us," Maddon said. "We just do a lot better in this building."

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