Red Sox gear up for tough Garza
Boston (19-12) vs. Tampa Bay (15-17), 8:05 p.m. ET
BOSTON -- For a decade, they were the punching bag of the American League. Every team -- the Red Sox included -- wanted a crack at the Rays, who wallowed in the cellar of the American League East from their inception in 1998 until, of course, last season.
But Tampa Bay's sudden transformation into a contender was spurred by much more than a simple name change. Last year, for the first time in franchise history, the Rays were beneficiaries of consistent quality starting pitching. Games that would have been a lost cause in past seasons were suddenly within reach, and no pitcher sparked the turnaround more than Matt Garza.
The 25-year-old hurler, who will take the hill in Sunday night's series finale at Fenway Park, has emerged as a personal nemesis of the Red Sox. Including last year's AL Championship Series, during which he limited the Sox to two runs in 13 innings over two starts, Garza is 7-1 lifetime against Boston with a 2.60 ERA.
Few have been spared by Garza's mastery of the Boston lineup, as center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (.421) is the lone Red Sox player to sport a career average above .200 against the Rays righty.
"When he's on, he's throwing a 97 mile-an-hour two-seamer, which is tough on everyone -- lefties and righties, it really doesn't matter," said Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli, a teammate of Garza's last season. "When he's throwing his breaking ball for strikes, whether it be his slider or his curveball, he's tough. When he's on, he's tough. You just hope you maybe catch him on an off day."
Acquired by Tampa Bay in a November 2007 trade with Minnesota, Garza has done nothing to shed his budding label as a Sox slayer early in 2009. Last year's ALCS Most Valuable Player, who helped shut the door on Boston's 2008 season with a brilliant seven-inning effort in Game 7, owns a microscopic .102 batting average against and 0.61 ERA in two victories over the Sox this season.
"He has some of the best stuff in the league, and we've witnessed that," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He's had some tremendous games against us. He gets in a rhythm, and the best way to break up a rhythm is by getting hits, walks or laying a bunt down. We're going to have to work. When he gets comfortable, his stuff is as good as there is, and unfortunately, we've witnessed it a few times."Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (3-2, 6.75 ERA)
Beckett rebounded from two poor outings to beat the Yankees last Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. Though not spectacular, Beckett was good enough, allowing 10 hits and three runs over six innings. This is his third start of the season against the Rays. Beckett was masterful in the first one, yielding one run on two hits over seven innings and fanning 10. But on April 30, the right-hander was roughed up for 10 hits and seven runs in 4 2/3 innings. This is Beckett's fourth start of the season at Fenway Park. TB: RHP Matt Garza (3-2, 3.51 ERA)
Garza has the best stuff on the Rays' staff according to pitching coach Jim Hickey, and at age 25, the right-hander finally seems to be maturing on the mound after struggling to control his emotions in the past. The one thing Garza has lacked is consistency, as he needs to learn how to win when he doesn't have his best stuff. Garza allowed two earned runs in eight innings against the Orioles last Tuesday to pick up his third win of the season. He had a memorable game the last time he faced the Red Sox, retiring the first 18 hitters he faced. Tidbits
Daisuke Matsuzaka (mild right shoulder strain) will make the second start of his Minor League rehab assignment Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, for Triple-A Pawtucket. ... Baldelli's second-inning home run marked the second long ball hit by a Rhode Island native as a member of the Red Sox. Lefty LeFebvre homered in his first Major League plate appearance on June 10, 1938. ... Saturday was the 485th consecutive sellout at Fenway, a streak that began on May 15, 2003. Tickets
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Tuesday: Red Sox (Justin Masterson, 2-2, 5.28) at Angels (Anthony Ortega, 0-2, 9.24), 10:05 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 4-1, 2.93) at Angels (Jered Weaver, 3-1, 2.66), 10:05 p.m. ET
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.