ST. PETERSBURG — Both the Rays' and Orioles' surprise rise near the top of the AL East could be attributed to the same formula — strong pitching and defense.
And both were on display Friday night as Baltimore outfielders robbed Tampa Bay hitters of four potential extra-base hits, including a catch manager Joe Maddon called one of the best he has ever seen.
But, in the end, it was Rays starter Matt Garza who delivered a gem of his own, tossing seven-plus shutout innings to outduel Jeremy Guthrie 2-0 in front of 13,635 at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (28-20), two games behind first-place Boston, has won 13 of its past 14 at home and plays nine straight at the Trop in its longest homestand of the season.
"Good pitching, good defense, timely hit now and then," Maddon said. "Seems to be working for us."
The Rays pitching staff, which boasts the most home shutouts (six) in the majors and a 2.82 ERA the past 15 games, has helped carry an offense that has yet to hit its stride. Though the Rays hit the ball hard Friday off Guthrie, each of the Orioles outfielders made spectacular grabs to prevent much damage.
In the fifth, with one out and two on, Adam Jones raced to the left-center gap to snag an Akinori Iwamura liner. Carl Crawford came through one batter later with an RBI single to put the Rays up 1-0. That was all the Rays could muster off Guthrie, who racked up his eighth quality start (six innings, one run, four hits).
For his part, Garza was strong as well, racking up four strikeouts and working himself out of jams. Some heady plays by Carlos Pena helped him out as well. Pena charged a broken-bat grounder by Ramon Hernandez in the second and threw home to catcher Dioner Navarro, who tagged out Aubrey Huff at the plate.
Pena called it a "weird" play, where the ball spun toward the foul line before bouncing to him.
"The play was to go home — there was no ifs, ands or buts about it," Pena said. "It turned out to be a big play."
It wasn't the only solid swipe by Pena. With two on in the fifth, he reached into the stands near the bullpen to catch a Brian Roberts foul ball.
"It's huge when you've got guys like that playing defense behind you," Garza said. "That's a big reason why we're at where we're at right now."
Garza (3-1) left in the eighth, and the right-hander has now given up just nine runs in five May starts (and is 5-0 lifetime against the Orioles).
The Orioles (24-23), however, nearly broke through after Garza left. With one on and one out, Huff ripped a sharp grounder down the first-base line into rightfield. First-base umpire Ed Hickox called it foul, drawing an impassioned argument from Huff, and later manager Dave Trembley. After Trever Miller got Huff to quickly ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning, Trembley was tossed between frames for arguing the call again.
"Without a doubt (it was fair)," Huff said. "I understand Ed is human; he makes mistakes, and obviously he made one there."
Pena added an insurance run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly to left-center; but it could have been more, as Orioles leftfielder Luke Scott raced near the warning track to make a diving grab.
"It was like a Willie Mays (catch)," Pena said. "It was crazy; I couldn't believe he caught it."