TORONTO — The offense was again mostly absent, though against Toronto ace Roy Halladay it is somewhat excused. But the difference for the Rays Tuesday from so many other recent nights was the way Matt Garza pitched, which made a little bit of offense more than enough.
The result was a crisp 3-0 victory, and the reward was some breathing room in the AL East race, as the Red Sox lost to fall two games back and the Yankees lost to drop four out.
Garza was — again — dominant, holding the Jays to five hits (four singles) in the first complete game shutout of his career, mixing a nasty curve with a steady flow of low fastballs, and beat Halladay for the second time in 11 days.
"What he did tonight was unbelievable," rookie third baseman Evan Longoria said. "We can't look to our pitchers and lean on them to do that every night, but give us a chance and I think we're going to put up enough runs to win some games."
The Rays (62-44) got the first one in somewhat record time, as Eric Hinske hit his 100th career home run to lead off the third, but, with conflicting signals from the umpires on whether it cleared the fence (it clearly did), raced around the bases thinking it was an inside-the-parker.
"He about died when he came in the dugout,'' Longoria said.
"I wanted to make sure," Hinske said. "It was cool, it was fun, it got us going early. So it was a good way to do it."
The other two runs also came on something of a milestone — their first hit of the series with a runner in scoring position (having gone 0-for-16). B.J. Upton started it with a two-out walk in the eighth, and Carl Crawford, singled. Longoria, who'd made outs the first three times up, got a cut fastball on the outer third of the plate and drove it to right, tripling in both.
Mix in more flashy defense, with three double plays and two more plays by Longoria that you'll hear about and see on highlights shows, and it was the kind of formula the Rays can succeed with.
"We are a very good pitching staff and we're facing very good pitching," manager Joe Maddon said. "So it's going to be those kind of games. You're going to have to win those kind of games if you're going to play in the last game of the year. You've got to win them.
"That's how you win championships, winning 3-0, 2-1, 1-0, whatever. You're just not going to beat people up''
The Rays became just the second team, joining the 2007 Red Sox, to beat Halladay three times in one season, though he said the credit goes more to their pitchers. "They've always had good hitters, they've always made you work,'' he said. "But usually we got to their pitching and that's probably the biggest difference."
Garza, now 9-6, 3.56, was up for the challenge. "Halladay is one of those guys you've got to step your game up,'' he said, "because you don't know how many runs you're going to get or how long he'll be out there."
Tuesday, even as Longoria said, "we're still struggling, don't get me wrong,'' three was enough.