Matt Garza delivered exactly the kind of start the Rays needed Wednesday night.
Garza gave up three runs over seven innings, and the Rays' struggling offense exploded late in a big way during a 9-4 win over the Red Sox in front of 38,055 at Fenway Park.
The win, just the Rays' fourth in their past 13 games, brought them to within two of the first-place Yankees, who lost again to the Mariners. Afterward, Tampa Bay packed up and left for Minneapolis, where it will face the first-place Twins in a four-game set.
For Garza (9-5), an ex-Twin, it was his second straight impressive performance; he gave up three runs over eight innings in his last outing against the Padres. It was his fourth win in his past five starts.
"He was great," manager Joe Maddon said. "I thought he was aggressive with his fastball. He threw primarily fastballs, and I really like that."
The Rays (45-32) challenged Daisuke Matsuzaka from the get-go, loading the bases in the first inning and forcing the Red Sox right-hander to throw 29 pitches but failing to score. Tampa Bay finally broke through in the fourth. Matsuzaka walked the leadoff hitter, Matt Joyce, who had two hits and reached base five times. John Jaso singled to move him to third, but Sean Rodriguez, on an attempted bunt, popped out.
That's when Kelly Shoppach ripped a two-run double off the centerfield wall, and Ben Zobrist followed with a two-out RBI single to make it 3-0 Rays.
That was more than enough for Garza, who struck out five and walked two. Of course, the banged-up Red Sox, with three starting position players on the disabled list, rolled out a lineup that included Eric Patterson, Bill Hall and Darnell McDonald. Still, Garza was sharp for most of the night, throwing just 68 pitches through the first five innings.
The Red Sox scored once in the sixth when, after Garza got two quick outs, he hit Patterson and David Ortiz hit an RBI double. Garza got into another jam in the seventh, with two on and two out, but Joyce made a nice running catch on a Mike Cameron fly ball to the rightfield corner to end the inning.
The Rays added six insurance runs in the eighth. Carlos Pena got it going with an RBI double and has now reached base safely in 17 of his past 21 games. Rodriguez followed with a two-run single and Jason Bartlett hit his first homer since May 19, a three-run shot over the Green Monster in left to make it 9-1.
Every Rays regular picked up a hit except for Carl Crawford, who went 0-for-5 after picking up four hits on Tuesday.