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Tampa Bay Rays lose 3-2 to the Baltimore Orioles as Matt Garza tumbles to 8-12

ST. PETERSBURG — As the Rays head into the final weekend of the season after Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Orioles, there are some questions — beyond what might have been had Carlos Peña's left hand not been broken the last time they faced CC Sabathia — that may never be answered.

How could Pat Burrell have been so bad for so long, hitting .225 with 14 homers, 64 RBIs and a slugging percentage down to .374?

What caused the dramatic dropoff in Dioner Navarro's play, from an All-Star catcher in 2008 to a potential nontender candidate with a .217 average and a .260 on-base percentage?

And how could Matt Garza put up such good numbers, starting with a 3.95 ERA, and have only an 8-12 record to show for it?

"I don't know," Garza said. "That's all I've got is, I don't know. I'm stumped."

Thursday's game wasn't without some positive — even as the Rays dropped to 82-77 and the Orioles snapped a major-league season-high 13-game losing streak — as Ben Zobrist hit his 27th homer, logged his 89th RBI and put himself in position with a big weekend — say, 9-for-15 — to finish with a .300 average.

But it was like so many of Garza's previous 31 starts: He pitched well, he didn't get much run support, he made a few mistakes, and he didn't win.

"It's tough to swallow," Garza said. "I'm going to have to sit down this offseason and see what I have to do to get better."

There was a lot he did well in his second full major-league season as he made his first venture across the 200-inning plateau.

His .233 opponents average is fourth best in the American League (and tops in Rays history), including .196 against lefties.

His average of 8.38 strikeouts per nine innings is sixth best among AL starters, and his total of 189 is ninth in the league and second highest in franchise history.

His 19 quality starts (six or more innings, three or fewer runs) are most among the Rays.

And — perhaps most frustrating — his 3.95 ERA ranks 16th in the league — but he's the only one of those 16 with a losing record.

"It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense," Zobrist said. "He's pitched really well for us and been very solid, and we just weren't able to get him those wins. You feel bad for him.''

Manager Joe Maddon said Garza's season was "significantly better" than his record showed: "That's a shame that it gets judged that way."

But Garza found little consolation in the supporting stats: "It's bittersweet. You pitch to win, and this year I didn't do that job.'

Certainly it's not all Garza's fault, as he has had the lowest run support — 3.68 per nine innings — in the league from a team that set a franchise scoring record. And there have been more than a couple of times, including Thursday, when the Rays haven't made plays behind him.

But he has made mistakes, allowing 25 home runs, up from 19 last season, and 79 walks, up from 59 in 1842/3 innings.

"If there's one area I think Matt had a little bit of a problem with, it would be the walk more than anything," Maddon said. "Otherwise, his stuff was great, and with a little bit better luck, he would have won a lot of games this year."

Orioles 3

Rays 2

Tampa Bay Rays lose 3-2 to the Baltimore Orioles as Matt Garza tumbles to 8-12 10/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 12:26am]

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