Garza quenches Rays' thirst for sweep

Garza a one-hit wonder in downing Marlins

MIAMI -- Matt Garza has been an enigma this season, great stuff with occasional lapses between his ears.

On Thursday afternoon at Dolphin Stadium, Garza showed everyone what he's capable of accomplishing, as the 24-year-old right-hander flirted with a no-hitter -- and ultimately gave up just one hit -- in a 6-1 Rays win over the Marlins that completed a three-game sweep over their Interleague rivals.

The Rays moved to 47-31 on the season while claiming their 15th series win -- as well as their sixth sweep, surpassing the previous team record of five sweeps in a season. In addition, the Rays reached a franchise-high mark of 16 games over .500, a place in the win-loss column unfamiliar to Rays teams past.

Garza faced the minimum through six innings, putting on display the breezing air of someone in a zone, a fact all too obvious to the Marlins.

"You could sense [at the beginning of the game that Garza was going to have a good outing]," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We weren't getting any really good swings on him early."

Garza knew he had something special going on, as did his teammates, who honored the time-worn custom of not talking to a pitcher when he has a no-hitter going for fear of upsetting the positive karma.

"I tried to stay away from him," Rays catcher Shawn Riggans said. "I didn't want to change anything I've been doing the previous inning, so I was letting him do his thing and I was definitely watching that scoreboard. That's the best pitching performance I've ever caught so it was fun, a lot of fun."

Hanley Ramirez finally broke Garza's spell when he led off the bottom of the seventh with his 17th home run of the season, a towering shot over the left-field scoreboard.

"Slider down and away, 0-0 count, he's a good hitter," Riggans said. "Hats off to him, but I would have liked to see him pop it up."

Ramirez's hit proved to be the only blemish on Garza's complete-game masterpiece, which saw him strike out 10 of the 28 batters he faced.

"That was really impressive," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "His stuff, from the very first inning, was that good. It wasn't like he had to build on anything. He had a great tempo all day long. He was pounding the strike zone, throwing his breaking ball for a strike, even in fastball counts. That was just a well-composed, dominant performance. He was virtually unhittable."

Only three weeks ago, replays of a spat in Texas between Garza and catcher Dioner Navarro played throughout the never-ending TV news cycle. Since then, Garza has worked with a specialist to curb his emotions -- and the results speak for themselves.

"I've made huge strides," Garza said. "Mentally, I think I would have lost it giving up that slider to Hanley. ... I regrouped. He hit a good pitch. It was outside of the zone and he went out there and got it."

Maddon has noticed the difference in Garza.

"In this game, I know for a fact, when you can correct the mental mechanics a lot of times your performance increases," Maddon said. "You do deliver the ball better, you have a better arm stroke, you have better mechanics, etc., because you have control of yourself. You have control of your emotions, you're able to breath.

"What you're seeing is a guy who is much more under control and now you're seeing his true abilities."

Evan Longoria and Riggans led the Rays' offense Thursday.

For Longoria, it came down to continuing what he began Wednesday night when he had a home run, two doubles and three RBIs. Thursday he added a home run and two doubles.

Riggans, who hails from nearby Fort Lauderdale, started behind the plate for the Rays, and he used his bat to celebrate his homecoming.

In the second inning, Riggans hit a bases-loaded shot to deep center field that Cody Ross hauled in with a circus catch to turn extra bases into a sacrifice fly, but the run gave the Rays a 1-0 lead.

"Oh man I thought I had it," Riggans said. "Thought I had it -- 190 pounds, that's all I got right there -- so I thought we had something, but, you know, drove in a run and got our team going early. We got the 'W,' so that's all that really matters."

Riggans also chased home Longoria and B.J. Upton with a fifth-inning double to the gap in left-center field that put the Rays up, 5-0. Ben Zobrist added his second home run in as many days to equal the final margin.

The Rays sweep gave the team its first road sweep this year.

"I think that speaks to composure in difficult settings," Maddon said. "... We have to build away from [Tropicana Field]. We have to win these road games in tough environments. It's a wonderful first step."

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