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Garza overpowering but Percival is hurt as Rays stay in first

Matt Garza gives the Rays the kind of start they’ve been expecting, with season bests of eight innings and 10 K’s.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Matt Garza gives the Rays the kind of start they’ve been expecting, with season bests of eight innings and 10 K’s.

ST. PETERSBURG — There was plenty of good in Wednesday's 5-3 win over Texas.

Matt Garza had a stellar start. Carlos Pena drew a big walk. B.J. Upton made a huge catch. The Rays maintained the best record in the majors (32-21), stayed ahead of Boston in the AL East and set up Tropicana Field's first-ever showdown between first-place teams as the White Sox come to town tonight.

But there was one very concerning bit of bad news as closer Troy Percival was forced from the game due to hamstring tightness and could be headed to the disabled list. At the least, he seems likely to be out a few days, with Grant Balfour seemingly the leading candidate to be brought up from Triple A.

"It was a great win," Garza said. "But a tough way to win with Percival walking out like he did. It's a huge hit."

The best way to prevent a bad loss like the Rays sustained Tuesday from becoming a losing streak is with a good start.

And while the Rays expect that from Scott Kazmir and James Shields, Garza showed he, too, can handle the responsibility, striking out 10 while allowing only two runs and four hits over eight innings, improving to 4-1 before another tiny crowd of 10,927.

"He really stands out to me as the kind of guy when he gets his confidence rolling and really believes that what he has got going on is good, heads up in a good way," manager Joe Maddon said.

"I think he's felt his way through the beginning part of the season with us a bit. The trade (from Minnesota) and all, we've been talking about him a lot. That may have had a little bit of an impact on him; now I think he's starting to settle in. And against a good-hitting team after a big night, to pitch that well to me is a good sign. So I think as his confidence grows you can see him pitching like that more often."

Garza's one scratch was a two-run single by Milton Bradley that put Texas up 2-1 in the fourth, but the Rays patiently rallied back, taking advantage of poor pitching and bad strategy.

A Shawn Riggans single, Ben Zobrist walk and Akinori Iwamura single made it 2-2, with Iwamura taking second on the throw home. With one out, the Rangers intentionally walked Upton to have lefty Kason Gabbard face Pena with the bases loaded. It might have been a better idea if Gabbard had thrown at least one strike; instead Pena accepted the walk, and the Rays took the lead.

As much as it's a moment to get excited about, Pena, who leads the AL with 63 strikeouts, said it was a matter of making sure he wasn't. "You know it's a big situation coming up," he said. "You try to keep yourself under control and stay calm and I was able to execute that, focus and see the ball. And I drew the big walk."

The Rays added two runs on a sac fly and another bases-loaded walk and took a 5-2 lead into what was a much more eventful ninth than they wanted.

Percival got an out, gave up a hit then fell as he struck out Brandon Boggs on his eighth pitch. Dan Wheeler gave up a run-scoring single, then Upton put the exclamation point on the afternoon, coming in hard for Jarrod Saltalamacchia's sinking liner and making a sensational diving catch in centerfield that would have been a bad gamble had he come up short.

"Phenomenal. Great. Potential game-saver," Maddon said. "All the above."

It was that kind of day.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Garza overpowering but Percival is hurt as Rays stay in first 05/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 29, 2008 5:46pm]
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