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Garza ready to roll at Fenway

Garza ready to roll in key Game 3 start

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BOSTON -- Considering how unpredictable this American League Championship Series has been through two games, Matt Garza has to be ready for anything in Game 3.

Garza can't control what the Rays' offense does against Jon Lester, and he can't really predict the shadows that should creep over the playing field at Fenway Park with the late-afternoon start time. The one predictability, though, is that he's prepared for the playoff atmosphere in Beantown.

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For him, it not only adds to the challenge, it adds a little to the fun.

"It's going to be nuts," Garza said on Saturday. "It's awesome. Just like Chicago was [last week], it's going to be nuts. But I'll deal with it and do what I can."

If Garza can pitch to his capabilities, he can give the Rays a shot to take command of this series and build on their momentum from Saturday's extra-inning win in Game 2. He might even be able to quiet the Fenway faithful a little bit.

Garza vs. Red Sox in 2008
Date
W
L
IP
H
ER
BB
K
April 25
0
0
5
5
3
3
1
June 3
0
1
5 1/3
6
5
2
3
July 1
1
0
7
5
0
0
3
Sept. 17
0
0
4 2/3
5
3
2
3
Totals
1
1
22
21
11
7
10

Once again, the Rays' postseason rotation has Garza pitching in his team's road opener, Game 3. In turn, it will likely have him receiving the brunt of the home crowd's passion when he takes the mound.

Garza faced a similar atmosphere in Chicago and kept the White Sox in a low-scoring duel early on in Game 3 of their AL Division Series before a bases-loaded, no-out jam resulted in a three-run fourth inning that put Garza behind for good.

He received a healthy round of boos when he had grounds crew workers fix a hole around the landing spot for his feet on the mound between innings, causing a few minutes of a delay. He didn't much care.

TALE OF THE TAPE
 Jon LesterMatt Garza
2008 regular season
Overall:33 GS, 16-6, 3.21 ERA, 66 BB, 152 K 30 GS, 11-9, 3.70 ERA, 61 BB, 128 K
Key stat:.727 win pct. (5th in AL) .245 OPP BA (9th in AL)
2008 postseason
Division Series:2 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA 1 GS, 0-1, 7.50 ERA
Career
Regular season:59 GS, 27-8, 3.81 ERA, 140 BB, 262 K54 GS, 19-22, 4.02 ERA, 114 BB, 233 K
Postseason:3 GS, 2-0, 0.77 ERA 1 GS, 0-1, 7.50 ERA
At Fenway Park
2008:17 GS, 11-1, 2.49 ERA 1 GS, 0-1, 8.44 ERA
Career:31 GS, 16-2, 3.30 ERA 3 GS 2-1, 4.50 ERA
Loves to face:Carl Crawford (3-for-14) Kevin Youkilis (1-for12)
Hates to face:Jason Bartlett (4-for-8) Jacoby Ellsbury (6-for-13)
Why he'll win:Undefeated vs. Rays. Best stuff on staff.

It was an intense atmosphere, and Monday will be moreso, especially with Lester opposing him in the midst of late-season dominance. But then, Garza can be an intense pitcher. His success relies in part on channeling that intensity and keeping it in check, and he was generally able to do that in Chicago.

"I thought his stuff was really good that last time out against Chicago," manager Joe Maddon said. "He had one bad inning. I just think as he gets a little more rest, his command and velocity have been pretty good. Again, I think he's grown a lot, maturity-wise."

It was the inability to translate his stuff into good results that proved frustrating for Garza. He has had a full week to get past that and turn towards his next outing.

"I've been waiting for this opportunity for a while," Garza said. "Last year was just lack of execution. Hopefully, I have the same stuff, and if I don't, I need to execute my pitches. That's all it comes down to."

Of course, the final result also will come down to whether the Rays can get to Lester. But Garza can't worry about that. For that matter, he won't surrender the upper hand to Lester, either.

"Lester's had a great year this year," Garza said. "He's been throwing the heck out of the ball. But my year wasn't that bad, either."

Garza, who went 11-9 this season, was just 4-4 after the All-Star break. However, his ERA in the season's second half was just 3.39, and he averaged better than six innings per start over his 13 outings after the break.

The outing last week against the White Sox bore some resemblance to his lone start at Fenway Park this season, when he took the loss on June 3 after allowing five earned runs over 5 1/3 innings. Much of that damage came in a four-run Red Sox sixth, when Boston loaded the bases without a base hit and eventually cleared them with a single, double and sacrifice fly.

In Garza's previous stint with the Twins, however, he had two wins in as many starts at Fenway. Both were five-inning performances. He also bounced back to pitch the Rays to two wins against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field this year, earning the win in one of them. One of those outings was a seven-inning performance in which he allowed one earned run in a 3-1 victory on July 1.

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

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