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Tampa Bay Rays waste strong start by Matt Garza as Minnesota Twins avoid three-game sweep

ST. PETERSBURG — It didn't take Matt Garza long to get a sense of what his old Minnesota buddies had planned for him Sunday.

Leadoff man Denard Span, the Tampa Catholic kid with whom Garza goes back furthest in the Twins organization, battled from a two-strike deficit to extend his at-bat to 10 pitches before flying out. As he crossed by Garza on his way back across the field, he couldn't keep a straight face.

"I go, 'Damn D,' " Garza said. "And he just gave me a little grin."

Though the consensus is that the Rays came out way ahead in the November 2007 trade that brought Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay, the Twins got the better of it Sunday with a 3-2 win in the first meeting with their former top prospect.

Brendan Harris, who went to Minnesota along with Delmon Young, homered, and the Twins pretty much beat Garza at their game, with tough at-bats, bunts, bloop hits, good defense and lockdown pitching.

"I came from there, I know how they play," Garza said. "They did what they had to do."

Garza pitched extremely well for seven innings, and he tried just as hard afterward to maintain the matchup wasn't a big deal and the loss no more disappointing than any other.

But as often as he said the Twins deserved credit, his frustration seemed more evident. "It's one of those losses," he said, "you just have to choke down."

Garza wasn't the only one down in the clubhouse, as the Rays let a chance for their first three-game sweep of the season slip away. They tried to take some solace in the series win (coming off a five-game losing streak) and getting through a rugged stretch of 40 games in 41 days (and nine cities, from Seattle to Miami) with a 20-20 mark, and 25-28 overall.

Manager Joe Maddon sent them off to have fun on their first day off at home of the season and with orders not to think about or watch baseball.

"It's extremely welcome," he said. "It's really been bizarre the lack of days off and the way we've been all over the place. It's going to be good for everybody."

The Rays had their chances to leave happier. After Harris' home run — "I was able to ambush him," he said — they tied it on Carlos Peña's AL-leading 17th homer, then went ahead on just-called-up Matt Joyce's first at the Trop, which was rocking with 26,579 fans.

But the Twins rallied, if you can call it that, to tie in the sixth with two bunts and a single by Justin Morneau, then went ahead in the seventh with an infield single (on a ball that Peña made a great diving play on), an opposite-field single and a blooper by Carlos Gomez that was just inches beyond the reach of second baseman Ben Zobrist.

"You couldn't have thrown it any better," Maddon said.

The Rays, meanwhile, repeatedly hit the ball hard but in the wrong places. Gabe Gross lined out to right — where Span "Spider­manned," Garza said, to make a great leaping catch — and to the mound. Zobrist lined a ball right at Harris at short. B.J. Upton ripped a ball that hit the top of the leftfield wall. Lon­goria grounded out with the bases loaded in the fifth, Gabe Kapler with two on in the eighth.

"What are you going to do?" Garza said. "Just walk away and hang out with the kids."

And then he did just that, Popsicles in hand for 6-year-old Matthew and 3-year-old Sierrra, who were waiting for him in the hallway outside the clubhouse with big hugs and no concerns.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays waste strong start by Matt Garza as Minnesota Twins avoid three-game sweep 05/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 7:57am]

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