ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Garza played nice Saturday. And he pitched even better.
Showing no signs of the temper and emotions that led to two heated confrontations with catcher Dioner Navarro in his last start, and all the signs of maturity and success, Garza led the Rays to a 4-1 victory over the Marlins.
The 21 outs he got over seven strong innings were impressive. But it was how he handled things after one of the three batters who got a hit that was most telling.
Garza had Florida's Matt Treanor down 0-and-2 in the third inning and didn't get a close call for strike three, then Treanor blooped a ball that dropped in shallow right. It was a point of potential combustion, but Garza didn't do anything — didn't stomp, swear or spit — except focus on getting the next out. And then he did.
"We talked specifically about controlling what you can, understand that things are going to happen behind you," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's made some really good points of realization. He's really come to grips in a very short period of time.
"I'm not saying we're over the hump yet, but this was a nice step in the right direction. He's kind of like a recovering emotionalist."
Once again, there was a lot to like, before a loud Tropicana Field concert-night crowd of 31,195.
Jonny Gomes homered, Jason Bartlett had the big hit and the Rays swiped four more bases to push their major-league-high total to 79. Centerfielder B.J. Upton (a long run and catch) and third baseman Evan Longoria (diving across the foul line and throwing from his knees) made dazzling plays, and leftfielder Justin Ruggiano made the highlight videos by diving over the leftfield wall in pursuit of a foul balls. Troy Percival got his 15th save with another 1-2-3 inning, his 17th in 24 outings.
It was the Rays' 40th win in 68 games (10 fewer than ever and 37 quicker than last year) and put them on a pace for a remarkable 95-win season as they remained 1½ games behind Boston in the AL East and leading the wild-card race by 3½, pending Oakland's late game.
Garza and Navarro said they'd been laughing about what happened last Sunday in Texas, but there clearly was a serious challenge for the 24-year-old right-hander acquired from Minnesota.
"It was a huge step for me in the right direction," Garza said. "There were times where I got a little upset, but I was able to step off and regroup and then come back to get the next guy."
As much as their spats stirred up, Navarro said it also enabled him and Garza to come to an arrangement.
"He understood where I was coming from and we stuck together," Navarro said. "I was on top of his butt today a little bit. I recognize every time he's going to get into that thing so I don't let it get to that point; I catch him before."
And if he regresses, Navarro said he'll do whatever's necessary, even if means another face-to-face encounter.
"Believe me, if I've got to do it again, I'll do it again," he said. "I know this kid is going to help us through the whole season, and if he does what he did tonight we're in pretty good shape."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.