DENVER — As teammates donned their boots, hats, western shirts and jeans for the next leg of the Urban Cowboy trip, Matt Garza sat in the chair in front of his locker, head buried in a blue towel, for a long time.
His frustration at going more than a month without a win was showing as he answered reporters' questions after Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Rockies, and he didn't look as if he was going to feel better any time soon.
"I've just got to start pitching better, that's it," he said. "That's all I can say. I've got to hit the video room, hit the … do whatever I've got to do to win. I've got to find a way to start pulling out some wins."
There was a bit of frustration — or at least critical analysis — in the manager's office, too, as the difference in the game turned out to be a pitch that Garza may have thrown with indifference.
After allowing a two-run homer to Clint Barmes with two outs in the third on a 2-and-2 slider that was a pretty good pitch, Garza gave up a homer three pitches later on a fastball — "a bad fastball," catcher Dioner Navarro called it — to Todd Helton.
"I just think he might have lost his focus for a bit to Helton, and he just threw the ball and he hit it," manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what I saw. Against a team that pitches this well … you can't be doing that.
"You've got to fight. Once you give up one or two runs, you've just got to say, 'That's it,' and move it along. As you can see in the end there, Helton's home run was the difference."
It wasn't the only difference. The Rays (35-33 after losing two straight) struggled at the plate against hard-throwing Ubaldo Jimenez and three relievers.
They trailed 4-1 after Garza gave up a third homer to Carlos Gonzalez in the fourth and weren't able to do much about it as they stranded 12 runners, including six in the final four innings, by hitting balls hard but at people.
A two-run single in the ninth by Ben Zobrist — who took over as the AL leader in OPS (1.080) and slugging percentage (.665) after getting enough plate appearances to qualify — was just their second hit with a man in scoring position.
"A non-fortuitous day," Maddon said.
The mental lapses have been an issue for Garza, 25, who tends to get emotional and openly frustrated after giving up a big hit. The Rays have worked with him on it, and performance consultant (sports psychologist) Ken Ravizza wasn't coincidentally in Denver, but Maddon said more progress is needed.
"Those are the things that we're trying to move beyond," he said. "He's still a young man; he's still emotional. I'm sure he'll be the first to admit that. We just have to keep working."
Actually, Garza said that wasn't the case, at least not this time.
"I wasn't (angry) or anything," he said. "He got me. Barmes got me, and then Helton did. What are you gonna do?"
Garza is considered to have the best stuff on the Rays staff and some of the best in the game. So for him to be just 4-5, despite a decent 3.83 ERA, and to have gone six starts without a win is an indication something is amiss.
He hasn't won since throwing a career-high 120 pitches in six innings May 16 (a start after throwing 116) but said there were no aftereffects and did throw 116 again in his last outing. "I'm built that way; I can go 120-130," he said.
So, what then?
"I've just got to pitch better," he said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org