ST. PETERSBURG — A few innings into Thursday's 13-0 win over the Boston Red Sox, with the zero still glowing in the Red Sox hit column, Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Garza was getting shut out in the Rays dugout, the obligatory silent treatment from teammates and coaches.
"That was weird," Matt Garza said. "The first inning, there was a lot of chatter. Then by about the fifth, sixth inning, nobody said anything. I was like, 'Man, I'm trying to start a conversation with people here. People didn't want to talk.' "
After retiring the first 18 Boston batters, Matt Garza finally gave up a hit, a soft liner if you can call it that, by Jacoby Ellsbury for an infield single, and that was all he gave up in a dazzling 72/3-inning, 10-strikeout outing.
And after the much-needed victory for the Tampa Bay Rays, there was plenty to say to and about him.
"He looked as good as the results indicated. He was just phenomenal tonight," said manager Joe Maddon, ranking it Garza's best overall outing, surpassing a complete-game one-hitter in June at Florida (where he also gave up a leadoff hit in the seventh) and a two-hit shutout in August at Texas.
Garza said he felt better in Texas, but acknowledged he was pretty good Thursday, working in synch with backup catcher Michel Hernandez in their third straight pairing, taking in pitching coach Jim Hickey's instructions to locate his pitches and avoid walks (he had just one, and was more upset about that than the hit), and staying in control from start to finish.
"Today," Garza said, "I put it all together."
The Rays are one of four teams that have not thrown a no-hitter, along with the Mets, Padres and Rockies. They've had two pitchers — the unlikely duo of Dewon Brazelton and Tony Saunders — get within four outs, and five six-inning bids.
Garza — the first Ray to retire 18 straight at any point in a game — wasn't foiled by much, as the speedy Ellsbury tried to slap the fastball to the third-base side and instead hit it up the middle. It went just by Garza in slow motion, then shortstop Jason Bartlett scooped it on the hop, but his throw to first was too late.
Official scorer Bill Mathews looked once at the TV replay before calling it a hit, but said there really was nothing to think about.
"When it was first hit it sounded like it was coming off hard," Garza said. "Then I saw it float by and I dove and I just watched it miss my glove by about inches. And I'm like, 'Oh, Barty … ' He almost made a great play."
Said Ellsbury: "Not the prettiest hit, but it got it done."
Garza's performance wasn't the only thing worth talking about.
The mostly stagnant offense came to life, and against Boston ace Josh Beckett no less, posting the largest shutout win in team history and racking up a season-high 18 hits.
They all had a hand in it, though Evan Longoria had the largest, ripping a bases-loaded double to right-center — that elusive big hit — to key the four-run rally in the fourth. Hernandez had four hits, including his first major-league home run. And by the end, every starter had a hit and the Sox had outfielder Jonathan Van Every on the mound and reliever Javier Lopez in rightfield.
But as good as Thursday was, for a Rays team that is 9-14 and hasn't won back-to-back games since April 12-13, it's not enough.
"It's a step forward and it's a much needed win," Longoria said.
"But we kind of did the same thing with the Yankees in our home opener. It will be a test of this team's character where we're at (tonight)."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]