Rays 13, Red Sox 0

Garza, Rays silence Sox

Tampa Bay snaps skid with 1-hitter

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 1, 2009
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - When Matt Garza walked to the mound each inning, he leaped over the foul line.

In the seventh inning of a perfect game, however, the jete of sorts came with a stumble before the first base line as Garza's superstitions and superb talent meshed into one startlingly efficient and singularly impressive performance. He didn't touch the line, the trip barely noticeable. But leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury momentarily broke up the performance.

Ellsbury hit a 94-mile-per-hour fastball by the diving Garza, and Jason Bartlett rushed in from short to field the ball. But Ellsbury - who came into the game hitting .438 off Garza - got to the bag too quickly. Garza would not be the 18th pitcher to reach perfection, though he earned the win in a 13-0 blowout of the Red Sox last night.

"I just watched the ball go right under my glove," said Garza. "[Evan Longoria] came up to me afterward and said, 'It's over, so let's go get a double play.' "

It was the only hit allowed by Garza or reliever Grant Balfour, the first one-hitter against the Sox since Justin Duchscherer performed the feat last May 24. And, yes, Ellsbury's single was followed by a double play.

The attempt at the first perfect game since Randy Johnson's in 2004 was done, and the standing ovation - with cowbells - came long and loud, from the 20,341 at Tropicana Field.

For the Rays, though, it was more. Not only had Garza retired 18 consecutive Red Sox, he gave the Rays a jump on winning their first series since they took two of three from the Sox at Fenway Park to begin the season, this victory coming off purported Sox ace Josh Beckett.

When Garza left after 7 2/3 innings, he trudged slowly off the mound. This time it didn't matter what lines he stepped over. When he approached the dugout, he lifted his cap for barely a second. In 108 pitches, Garza allowed just one hit and one walk, and struck out 10 of the 24 batters he faced.

"Garza was about as good as you can get," said Sox manager Terry Francona. No one was arguing.

"We didn't have a whole lot going," Francona said. "Some nights you sit here and you go, 'Well, we needed to catch a break, a couple balls didn't fall.' He just, two-seam, four-seam fastball, two breaking balls, and just overpowered us."

Beckett, who is often laconic after a start, outdid himself this time. He said, without a change of expression, "He pitched good. He didn't have to pitch that good to win that game."

Beckett was right.

For the Sox, it was a game ugly enough that in the eighth inning it featured Jonathan Van Every - he of the game-winning homer the night before - on the mound, and reliever Javier Lopez in right field. That was not nearly as troubling as the fourth straight subpar start from Beckett.

By the time the Sox walked off the field at the end of the fifth inning, the numbers were stark. The Rays had seven runs on 10 hits. The numbers across the board for Boston: 0 0 0.

Coming into the game, Garza had faced the Sox nine times in the regular season and postseason. The righthander was 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA, the Sox hitting just .213 against him. Those numbers only got better last night.

"He's pitched so well against us," Francona said before the game. "His velocity is what it is. He's thrown his breaking ball. We've seen him pitch some of the best games probably in his young career - which is not good."

Garza threw just 14 balls through four innings. He was as good as he had been when Florida's Hanley Ramirez broke up his no-hit bid in the seventh last June 26 - and as overwhelming as Josh Beckett was not.

"I thought his stuff was tremendous," Francona said of Beckett. "Just didn't execute enough pitches. Maybe he's trying to be too fine. Not missing bad, not missing up and in or off the plate, but a lot of pitches where he's down in the count, again not fully trusting his stuff. Because his stuff to me tonight looked explosive."

Beckett did not return to his Opening Day brilliance against the Rays, when he allowed one run on two hits over seven innings, striking out 10. Since then, Beckett had given up 16 runs in 17 innings entering last night, his ERA exploding to 6.00. Through two innings, that number looked as if it might shrink. He allowed one hit over two, and struck out the side in the second.

It didn't last. Beckett needed 43 pitches in third. The Rays had scored four runs, Longoria doing the damage with a bases-clearing double. Two more came home in the fourth, and another in the fifth.

By the time Beckett left, his ERA was a bloated 7.22.

He lasted only 4 2/3 innings, and eight of those outs came on strikeouts. In the end, all he did was rejuvenate a Rays team that had lost its last six series, and push yet more innings onto an overworked bullpen, and onto an outfielder who had last pitched in high school.

"I just gave up seven [expletive] runs in less than five innings," Beckett said, when asked if he was close to getting it right. "That's not close to me. Yeah, it's frustrating. It's a lot of things."

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