MINNEAPOLIS — As if being tied for the American League wild card playoff spots wasn't enough to make the four-game series with Texas at the Trop officially a big deal, the Rays face old buddy RHP Matt Garza in tonight's opener.
"Obviously I loved having him on my team," 3B Evan Longoria said. "He's a competitor, and he's got good stuff. I think it will be a pretty intense game, not only because you want to go out there — it's just like facing (former teammate James) Shields — and do well against him and have those bragging rights, but at the same time, there's much more at stake. The implications are far more reaching in relation to the team and where both (teams) stand and the importance of the series."
Garza, traded to the Cubs for a package featuring RHP Chris Archer, OF Sam Fuld and injured SS Hak-Ju Lee in January 2011, faces the Rays for the first time. He has stayed in touch with several former teammates, exchanging text messages with manager Joe Maddon and planning to stay at LHP David Price's place this week.
The Rays, naturally, are very familiar with him, knowing he can get too emotional on the mound and, a bigger area for exploitation, has a brutal time fielding bunts. "Well aware," Maddon said.
"If he's expecting guys not to bunt on him, he'd be remiss," Longoria said.
The Rangers — who ended the Rays' past two playoff appearances in the 2010 and 2011 division series — have won two of the three games between the teams this season. The Rays need to win three of the four this week to have the season-series edge, which would get the wild card game played at the Trop if the teams end up tied for the spots.
PRICE CHECK: Price didn't pitch poorly Sunday in a 6-4 loss to the Twins, allowing six hits while working into the seventh. Two runs scored after he left the bases loaded for Jake McGee. But Price wasn't happy with how he handled himself coming off his career-high 127-pitch outing Tuesday and what he said was his best-ever warmup.
"Honestly, I put too much pressure on myself to go out there and be perfect," said Price, winless in his past four starts. "I wanted to do so well (Sunday). It was a whole bunch of things played into that. (Maddon) gave me 127 pitches last time. I felt unbelievable. I wanted to go out there and make sure that he knows that just because he gave me that many pitches five days ago, I could go out there and throw my game. I was in my own head (Sunday). I felt great. I kind of played against myself."
BECKHAM TIME? The Rays are considering calling up INF Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 draft, possibly tonight. Beckham, 23, hit .276 for Triple-A Durham with four homers and 51 RBIs in 122 games this season, then .290 in seven playoff games. Beckham would give the Rays an extra right-handed-hitting middle infielder and pinch-runner, and would benefit from the September pennant-race experience. RHP Jake Odorizzi, who was slated to start for the Bulls in Tuesday's Triple-A national championship game against Omaha (Royals) in Allentown, Pa., and LHP Jeff Beliveau may also be added this week.
MISCELLANY: The Rays had beaten the Twins 11 straight times. … 2B Ben Zobrist came back from his much-needed day off with two hits, snapping an 0-for-16 streak. … Maddon said the MLB rule requiring a starter work five innings to be eligible for a win should be altered when there is a rain delay, as was the case Saturday, with LHP Matt Moore limited to three innings in the Rays' 7-0 win. Brandon Gomes got the win. … RHP Jesse Crain was set to throw to hitters today, potentially the last test of his previously strained shoulder before he is activated to pitch in games. … RHP Alex Cobb tonight makes his 20th start, which makes the Rays the seventh team in AL history to have six pitchers with 20 or more. The last? The 2001 Devil Rays.