ST. PETERSBURG -- The game nobody in Tampa Bay wanted to play is now a reality.
With the Rays' 4-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night, the "if necessary" has been crossed out and the asterisk removed.
There will be a Game 7 on Sunday night, and the Rays and Red Sox will square off in a winner-take-all duel for the right to face the Phillies in the World Series.
For the Rays, their survival will hinge on the right arm of 24-year-old starter Matt Garza, who has had arguably the toughest postseason draw among the club's four-man rotation.
Garza vs. Red Sox in 2008
On Oct. 10, Garza stepped into the full fury of Chicago's South Side fans, taking the loss in his first career playoff start. On Monday, he got his first taste of postseason baseball in Boston, silencing the Fenway faithful with six innings and allowing just one earned run in the blowout win.
Although Garza will make his home playoff debut, the rematch with Boston's Game 3 starter Jon Lester will make for anything but a relaxing Sunday game.
Fortunately, Garza is anything but a laid-back pitcher. The Fresno State University alumnus has arguably the best stuff on the Rays' staff, and he embodies the ferocious Bulldog mentality with a highly charged and emotionally driven presence on the mound.
"Our guy going [Sunday] is a competitor," Rays designated hitter Cliff Floyd said. "He believes in himself; he's got a ton of confidence. And when you are talking about pitching, that's what you want a guy to have."
TALE OF THE TAPE: GAME 7 STARTERS
RAYS Matt Garza
RED SOX Jon Lester
2008 REGULAR SEASON
30 GS, 11-9, 3.70 ERA, 61 BB, 128 K
33 GS, 16-6, 3.21 ERA, 66 BB, 152 K
.245 OPP BA (9th in AL)
.727 win pct. (5th in AL)
2 GS, 1-1, 4.02
3 GS, 1-1, 1.83
2 GS, 1-1, 4.02
4 GS, 2-1, 1.86
AT TROPICANA FIELD
15 GS, 7-3, 2.89
15 GS, 7-3, 2.89
2 GS, 1-0, 6.75
AGAINST THIS OPPONENT
5 GS, 2-1, 3.86
4 GS, 3-1, 2.10
7 GS, 3-1, 3.49
8 GS, 4-1, 3.72
Loves to face
Kevin Youkilis (1-for-16)
Rocco Baldelli (0-for-5)
Hates to face
Jacoby Ellsbury (6-for-16)
Jason Bartlett (5-for-12)
Why he'll win
Best stuff on staff
That swagger is exactly what the Rays need to have after they let a 3-1 series lead shrivel into a winner-take-all Game 7.
"We got one more game, and we got to come," catcher Dioner Navarro said. "It's everything or nothing."
And it starts with Garza.
"I think he's going to be fine," Navarro said. "He's a really emotional guy, so if he keeps his emotions under control, he will be fine."
The combustible Garza of the past was nowhere to be found in his last start against the Sox on Monday. In what was previously the biggest outing of his career, Garza exhibited a calm determination, even as he discussed his meticulous game plan against some of the AL's most dangerous hitters.
Garza had no shortage of motivation, as pregame talk in Game 3 swirled about Boston's wonder-kid Lester. The righty could have gotten all hot-headed about the Lester hype. Instead, he used the fodder to his advantage, silencing the capacity crowd at Fenway Park with his six-hit, five-strikeout performance.
"I knew I couldn't let my emotion get the best of me," Garza said. "I had to go out there and pitch my game. Every inning was 0-0. Couldn't stray from that. Every inning, keep attacking."
It is the same game plan that Navarro will use with the young right-hander on Sunday night.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Navarro said. "He did a great job in Boston, and he knows what he has got to do. [The Red Sox] got Lester going, so I expect a great game."
Garza, who does not speak to the media the day before he pitches, said on Friday that he had yet to prepare mentally for Game 7. Sharing a podium with Game 6 starter James Shields, Garza wasn't ready to acknowledge the possibility of a Game 7, noting that he had "a lot of confidence" that Shields would get the job done on Saturday.
Early Sunday morning, it was Shields who stood in front of his locker to deliver the same assurance.
"We have all the faith in Garza you can have," Shields said.
"We got one more game, and now it's do-or-die. We got to find out what we are all about."
Garza gave a pretty good crash course the last time the two clubs were tied.
Come Sunday, the Rays will lean on the young right-hander to break the stalemate again and continue the young club's Cinderella season.
"Baseball's funny. I mean, nobody in a million years thought this team would be in the position we are," Floyd said. "We thought we would be popping bottles a couple days ago, it didn't happen. Now we are about to see what we are made of."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.