ST. PETERSBURG — As little hitting the Rays were again doing — or again not doing — the premium Wednesday was on the guys throwing the ball. And one pretty big catch at the end.
The Rays won, beating the battling Blue Jays 1-0. All it took was another home run by Carlos Pena, a stellar start by Matt Garza, more dominant relief work by Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler and a wall-banging game-ending catch by Justin Ruggiano.
"Tonight I was fortunate enough that one was enough," Garza said. "What can I say? This team, we find a way to win. … We don't quit. Everyone is out here for one reason, and that's to try to get this team to October."
The win kept the Rays from their first three-game skid of the second half and maintained their 3½-game American League East lead over the Red Sox, who won again and may have dropped the Yankees from the conversation, now 10½ back with 30 to play.
The disappointment, again, was the Tropicana Field attendance, another embarrassing turnout of 12,678 (800 fewer than Tuesday).
The highlight moment belonged to Ruggiano, who with two out raced back, leaped and crashed into the wall to snag Rod Barajas' drive that would have hit high up for a likely double.
"Off the bat, I thought it was a home run," Ruggiano said. "The split second before I jumped, I had a feeling that I could make this catch."
But the storyline was the pitching.
Garza was dazzling, working into the eighth without allowing a run (his seventh start without an earned run), retiring nine in a row in one stretch, scattering six hits and taking advantage of the low target that now personal catcher Shawn Riggans provides.
"What Garza did today, that was impressive," Pena said. "I thought he was really aggressive, and very confident, and poised. And next thing you know, he throws up eight zeroes.''
He has been ridiculously tough on the Jays, improving to 3-1 and lowering his ERA to 0.30, having allowed one run in 31 innings.
Jays rookie David Purcey was equally impressive in his first outing against the Rays, striking out 11 and allowing only four singles and Pena's homer on the first pitch of the fourth (the Rays' only extra-base hit in the two games). It was Pena's eighth homer in his past 20 games, 13th since the All-Star break and 27th overall.
Manager Joe Maddon called it a "classic-kind-of-a-game" game, and said: "We just have to be able to play with this kind of level of emotional intensity nightly, and we have. … Our guys are truly into it, they understand what's going right now.''
Garza had thrown 110 pitches when Maddon went to the mound in the eighth with two out, one on and red-hot Vernon Wells at the plate. Garza stayed in but walked Wells. No problem, as Balfour blew away lefty-swinging Adam Lind. Wheeler got two quick outs in the ninth, and then Ruggiano had things in hand.
"I stopped breathing for like three seconds,'' Pena said, "and then he came up with that play. It was great.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.