ST. PETERSBURG — In the top of the ninth inning on the Fourth of July, the final Angels batter popped up in foul territory. Rays first baseman Logan Morrison squeezed the ball for only this team's third win in 19 games. The rookie pitcher near the mound, a local, pounded his mitt.
Ryan Garton, closer.
You heard me.
"Hopefully, Ryan Garton has a smile ear to ear and doesn't wipe it off all night," Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
Garton, who attended Mitchell High in New Port Richey, recorded his first major-league save, before family, on the Fourth of July at Tropicana Field. A relieved Rays bullpen momentarily caught its breath in a 4-2 win.
Garton, who came in with a 5.11 ERA, got two outs. One was Angels superstar Mike Trout, who struck out looking with a man on. The rookie then kept Albert Pujols, 575 homers and counting, inside the fences, limiting him to a sharp single, which would have been a RBI double if the ball hadn't struck third base umpire Mike Estabrook.
Nobody said it needed to be a work of art. And Garton never backed down. No fear. The ball from the final out was in his glove in his locker after the game.
"I was super excited I did my job," Garton said. "As long as we're getting the win. That it happened to be a save, too, is awesome."
For once, the Rays no-lead-is-safe bullpen didn't crumble. It's underwhelming and overexposed. It's been lousy. During the 2-16 stretch leading into Monday, the pen had pitched to a 9.29 ERA. Think about that. Monday, Erasmo Ramirez, Dana Eveland and Garton finished the thing. The Nasty Boys.
Just last Thursday, Garton, called up twice by the Rays this season, was part of the problem. He gave up four hits and that led to four earned runs as the pen disintegrated to blow a 7-2 lead in the ninth in a grisly loss the Tigers. It began the four-game slide that ended Monday. After last Thursday's game, Rays teammate Steve Pearce took a knee and talked with Garton at the rookie's locker.
"I was at a loss of words for what happened," Garton said. "But a lot of guys, including Steve, came and told me you're going to get more outings, put it behind you, you've got the stuff to be at this level. That's why I came to the clubhouse the next day with my head up."
"Up" was the operative word against Trout.
"We talked before I went in, with (Rays pitching coach) Stan (Boroski)," Garton said. "I tried to stay elevated with my fastball and it worked out well. I was happy to get one of the best hitters in the game out."
"I don't know if he envisioned closing out a game today for us," Cash said.
Who does? With Alex Colome out, no bullpen roles are set in concrete. More like quicksand.
The pen was helped by another strong turn by starter by Matt Moore, who pitched into the seventh and gave up only two runs. Why, Moore is throwing so well that he might be good enough to get traded.
Garton, 26, isn't taking his future for granted. Nor is his family. There was another large, loving contingent for him in Monday's crowd of 14,532. Mom, stepdad, brother, nephews, sister-in-law. It's still a dream sequence for Garton. He's living at his family home in the Lutz area.
"It's crazy," he said. "I wake up in the bed I grew up in. … It's a weird feeling, waking up, driving to the Trop, going across the bay. It's very surreal. You never think of it happening, but it's happening."
He said, "You never know with the way the Rays use their minor leagues. You go back and forth, back and forth. But it's a big thing, being here."
Monday was bigger.
Ryan Garton, closer.