Garza stymies Red Sox in Rays' victory

Garza stymies Red Sox in Rays' victory

BOSTON -- All season long, the eighth inning has been like a play date for the Rays' offense and dire straits for opposing teams.

Never did that play day feel as invigorating as it did Wednesday night, when the Rays scored six in the eighth to finish off the Red Sox in a 9-4 win at Fenway Park with a sellout crowd of 38,055 watching.

"That's what we've been missing," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what we've been able to do [for most of the year], catch a lead and add on late. And we did it tonight."

By winning, the Rays split the two-game series and moved to within two games of the first-place Yankees in the American League East and within one game of the second-place Red Sox.

Entering Wednesday, Tampa Bay had scored 61 runs in the eighth inning, far and away its highest total for any frame. So when the club went to the eighth clinging to a precarious 3-1 lead, it looked for the magic it had seemingly found all season.

Evan Longoria greeted Manny Delcarmen with a single to lead off the inning, thereby beginning what felt like a shallow-water feeding frenzy at Amity Island.

Carlos Pena doubled home Longoria before Matt Joyce singled and John Jaso walked. When Sean Rodriguez followed with a two-run single, Red Sox manager Terry Francona had seen enough and brought in Ramon Ramirez.

Kelly Shoppach, who had doubled home the Rays' first two runs of the game in the fourth, bunted the runners into scoring position to set the table for Jason Bartlett. The shortstop fell behind 0-2 before delivering the knockout punch, a three-run homer over the Green Monster to give Tampa Bay a 9-1 lead.

"I was going two-strike approach from the first pitch, trying to put it in play," Bartlett said. "The way things are going, I just wanted to put it in play and see what would happen. He hung that split and that's probably the only pitch at that time I could put into play."

Bartlett's second home run of the season broke a streak of 21 consecutive solo homers. Ironically, the last time he hit a homer with a runner on base was Sept. 19, 2006, when he played for the Twins and he hit a three-run shot at Boston with Matt Garza pitching for Minnesota.

Garza's pitching enabled the Rays' eighth to come to fruition as he kept the handcuffs on Boston's offense through the first seven innings, holding the Red Sox to just one run.

"His velocity and hitting his spots is what made him so tough," said David Ortiz, who had two doubles and drove in three runs. "When he is hitting his spots, he is hard to hit."

Maddon liked the fact that Garza threw primarily fastballs.

"He pounded the strike zone with that," Maddon said. "He was very aggressive. That's the key word with him for me, he maintains his aggressiveness. He pitches to his game and doesn't try to pitch to hitter's weaknesses as much as he pitches to his strengths, and that's what I saw tonight."

Boston scored three times in the eighth -- two of the runs were hung on Garza -- but the Rays' No. 2 starter came away with his ninth win as Tampa Bay notched a much-needed stop-the-bleeding win.

"I'm not a guy who's going to thumb you to death, I'm not going to throw my breaking ball 70 percent of the time, my changeup 70 percent of the time -- I'm a smash-mouth guy," Garza said. "I'm going to come at you and come at you hard."

While the Rays have been in a slump, losing 20 of their past 33, the team has not experienced anything near what it encountered in 2009, when it suffered an 11-game losing streak. The Rays have not lost more than three in a row all season.

"It's good to get through this, in spite of all this drama, we have not been swept. Atlanta, we lost two out of three, Florida two out of three, Padres, two out of three -- but we didn't get three out of three, and I think that's vital," Maddon said. "When you start getting swept, then it adds up to the six- or seven-game losing streak. We absorbed two of those in 2008; I really would like to avoid that this year. And I think with our pitching and overall, I think we can. But that's what's been in the back of my mind, to not get swept."

The Rays went 11-14 in June and now can move forward to a new month and a fresh start in July. Longoria smiled and said he was happy to look at June through the rearview mirror.

"And I think the team is, too," Longoria said. "I think this will be a kind of turn the page kind of thing for us. July is a new month and [we are hoping to] get off to a good start."

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