Solid Matt Garza is backed by three homers as Tampa Bay Rays win seventh straight

TORONTO — The Rays are arguably the hottest team in baseball.

And like most of the times they have put a winning streak together, manager Joe Maddon said, "It pretty much starts with pitching, and it pretty much ends with pitching, too."

On Tuesday, it was right-hander Matt Garza who continued the starting rotation's recent string of success, giving up just one run over seven innings in the Rays' 4-1 win over the Blue Jays in front of 15,477 at the Rogers Centre.

He wasn't as dominating as in his last outing, an eight-inning gem against the Phillies, but he showed poise in working out of jams and winning without feeling like his best. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his past 12 starts.

"It might have been ugly, but we got the job done," Garza said. "That's all that counts."

Tampa Bay (44-35) extended its winning streak to a season-high seven games, moved to nine games over .500 for the first time and clinched a series win against an AL East foe.

"The starting pitching has been unbelievable," Evan Longoria said. "When they go out there and throw four, five, six, seven innings of one-run ball, that's not too tough on the offense to win the ballgame. The tempo and momentum is always in our favor when they get three quick outs and come back."

The Rays offense again lived by the longball with three homers, setting a club record for most in a month (41). And B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford continued to show why they're a dangerous duo atop the lineup. Upton ripped the first pitch of the game from right-hander Scott Richmond for his second career leadoff home run.

Crawford hit a solo homer in the third, turning on a quality slider by Richmond for his eighth of the season and second in as many days to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.

"He's been hot lately," Upton said. "That's the thing about Carl, he doesn't necessarily hit the pitches you're supposed to hit. He hits the ball that normally no one else hits. But that's why he is who he is."

Garza, who matched a season high by allowing seven hits, got out of trouble on a few occasions and received plenty of help from his defense. Jason Bartlett made two nice plays in the hole at short, throwing out Jays at first. In the sixth, Adam Lind hit what looked like an extra-base hit down the rightfield line. But Gabe Gross chased it down and made a spectacular one-hop throw to Bartlett to get Lind at second.

"They're always there. They always step up; that's what these guys do," Garza said of the defense. "They pick up when you need them and we pick them up when they need it. That's why we're playing the way we're playing."

The Rays tagged on insurance runs with a Willy Aybar homer in the sixth and a Ben Zobrist sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Garza lasted until the eighth, when he was pulled after walking leadoff hitter Aaron Hill. Right-hander Chad Bradford, making his third appearance since coming off the disabled list Friday, relieved and got into a jam before he, and left-hander Randy Choate, got out of it unscathed.

"We've been playing good baseball lately, and won another close one," Upton said. "Our pitching has been great, Garza scuffled a little bit but kept us in it. The bullpen comes in the game, does their job, and we came up with the win."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Solid Matt Garza is backed by three homers as Tampa Bay Rays win seventh straight 07/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 1, 2009 1:26am]

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