Everybody knew the MVP of the 2008 American League Championship Series had nasty stuff. He just needed to figure out what to do with it. Thursday night, Garza made his 32nd and final start of the season, and once again, he showcased an array of live pitches, the kind of lightning bolts that make hitters walk away from home plate shaking their heads. But once again, he came away without a win.
"Matt had really good stuff tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He had as good as stuff as he has had in awhile. We didn't make a couple of plays for him ... but he had really good stuff tonight. Overall, he pitched pretty well."
The right-hander took his 12th loss of the season as the Orioles snapped their 13-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Rays in front of a crowd of 10,716 at Tropicana Field.
By losing, Tampa Bay's winning streak ended at four games, as it fell to 82-77 with three games remaining in the season. Meanwhile, Garza finished the season with an 8-12 mark despite having a 3.95 ERA; opponents hit just .233 against him. Unfortunately for Garza, he also led the team in the least amount of run support.
"That's what is frustrating, is that I ran into a lot of those nights this year," Garza said. "So I'll just get ready for next year."
Garza took his first career loss to the Orioles, falling to 6-1. On a positive note, he pitched six innings to surpass the 200-inning mark for the first time in his career, thereby achieving one of his goals for the season.
"It just lets me know that I can pitch deep in games and that I have the ability to keep the team in there for as long as I can," Garza said. "Next year, I'll set new goals and try to achieve those."
Nick Markakis' RBI single off Garza drove home Cesar Izturis to give the Orioles a 1-0 first-inning lead. Melvin Mora and Jeff Fiorentino each had RBI singles in the fourth to push Baltimore's lead to 3-0.
Chris Waters started for the Orioles, making his first start since Sept. 26, 2008, and allowed one run over six innings to pick up his first win since Sept. 16, 2008.
"It's definitely a good feeling in front of the home crowd where I grew up," said Waters, who grew up in nearby Lakeland, Fla. "I think I was more nervous before tonight's start than when I pitched in New York."
Maddon said Waters was the kind of guy who gives the Rays' lineup a hard time.
"That soft lefty, man," Maddon said.
Ben Zobrist hit his 27th home run of the season when he connected off Waters in the fourth to cut Baltimore's lead to 3-1.
"[Waters] threw his offspeed pitches pretty well," Zobrist said. "He kept them down. Give him credit, he pitched well. ... He definitely did a great job."
The Rays mounted a rally in the bottom of the ninth, when Zobrist doubled off Jim Johnson to lead off the inning and scored on pinch-hitter Gregg Zaun's single, but the rally fell short when Akinori Iwamura grounded back to Johnson with the tying run on third to end the game.
"That just shows right now what's going on in our hearts," Zobrist said. "We're not giving up. We're not giving in. We're going to go out there and try and win every ballgame from here on out. So I think there are some positive things."
Zobrist finished the season against the Orioles with a .407 batting average, seven home runs, 18 RBIs, nine doubles and a triple, prompting Baltimore manager Dave Trembley to heap praise on Tampa Bay's cleanup hitter by referring to him as "Babe Ruth over there."
"I thought [Ruth] was no longer out there, but he's been reincarnated against us this year," Trembley said.
Zobrist has been on a tear lately, which prompted reporters to ask if he wished the season wasn't ending on Sunday.
"I don't think anybody in here wants the season to end on Sunday," Zobrist said. "It's just the way it is. And, you know, I was able to get a couple of good ones today. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.