Garza continues dominance vs. Sox

Garza continues dominance vs. Sox

BOSTON -- Matt Garza gave the Rays a quality start while Tampa Bay hitters chipped in with three home runs, but Thursday afternoon's 4-3 win over the Red Sox all came down to what happened in the bottom of the ninth inning at Fenway Park.

Garza, who defeated the Red Sox in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series in October, was equally impressive in handling the Red Sox in Thursday's outing while picking up his first win of the season.

"I was able to establish my fastball early and let these guys know I was coming after them," Garza said. "[I] used my changeup a lot and kept them off-balance with my breaking ball, which I was locating for strikes. That's a good thing -- lets me control the tempo and get deep into the game."

The win gave the Rays their first series win of the season, their second successive series win at Fenway Park and their first series win to start a season since 2002, when they swept a three-game set from the Tigers at Tropicana Field.

Garza's only blemish in seven innings of work came in the sixth, when Kevin Youkilis doubled to right to lead off the inning. One out later, Jason Bay hit a triple to deep center field to drive home Youkilis and cut the Rays' lead to 4-1.

"[I] left a hanging slider up to Bay after I shook off my catcher, which I shouldn't have done, and [the pitch Shawn Riggans called] probably would have worked better," Garza said.

The Red Sox further chipped away at the Rays' lead in the eighth, when Mike Lowell hit an RBI double off Joe Nelson to make it a two-run game. Then came the moment many Tampa Bay fans have waited to see: Troy Percival entering the game to try and close out the ninth.

Percival had back surgery in December, and from all indications this spring, he appeared to be ready to resume the team's closing duties. But he immediately made the game interesting when Jason Varitek, the first batter he faced, greeted him with a home run to right field.

Percival then retired Jacoby Ellsbury on a flyout to center field to bring up reigning American League MVP Dustin Pedroia, prompting the crowd to chant "MVP! MVP!" Pedroia then hit a shot to third base that Longoria fielded on one hop and threw to first for the second out.

"Fortunately it worked out on my side this time," Longoria said. "It looks like I made it easy. But it could have easily gone the other way and kicked off the heel of my glove and he would have had a base hit. I think if I don't make the play, it's probably a base hit. At the same time, that was a turning point in that inning for us."

With one out to go, Percival went to a full count on David Ortiz before walking the Red Sox slugger to put the tying run on base and bring Youkilis to the plate representing the potential winning run. Everything seemed to be in harmony for a Red Sox comeback, but Youkilis killed the Fenway mood by flying out to center field to end the game.

"You're facing the heart of the Boston Red Sox lineup with the wind blowing out," said Percival, who noted he had a difficult time gripping the baseball due to its slick texture on the brisk afternoon. "You're going to have to make really good pitches."

Rays manager Joe Maddon looked past appearances to the end result achieved by Percival.

"Hey, it doesn't have to be an oil painting to be successful," Maddon said. "It wasn't an oil painting today, but he got-er done. And he's going to have those days and we were successful, so don't denigrate it. It was a good thing."

All of the Rays' offense came via the long ball.

Matt Joyce started off Tampa Bay's home run parade with a solo shot against Daisuke Matsuzaka to lead off the second. Longoria then hit his second home run of the season in the third, a two-run shot over the Green Monster. Riggans, who was in the lineup for regular catcher Dioner Navarro due to the day game following a night game, hit a solo homer off Dice-K that cleared the wall in right for a 4-0 Rays lead.

While the season is just three games old, Thursday's win did serve as a reminder that the Rays are still the AL champions, which a lot of people seem to have forgotten.

"From our perspective, the biggest thing was to come up here and play good baseball," Maddon said. "I wanted to see us play good baseball. We lost the first game and you hear all these different things people are already becoming concerned with. It's rather humorous to me.

"I'm just looking at how well we're playing -- catching the ball, running the bases, hitting the cutoff man, making pitches, the overall concept, and the intensity of the players. That's what I've been gauging from the past three days. And it's all been good."

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