Fresh off Matt Garza's pitching gem, the Rays will attempt to pin an eighth consecutive road loss on the slumping Detroit Tigers when these two teams continue a four-game series from Tropicana Field this evening.
Tampa Bay kicked off its current 11-game homestand in memorable fashion on Monday, when Garza became the first pitcher in franchise history to throw a no-hitter in a 5-0 triumph over the Tigers. The standout right-hander faced the minimum 27 batters, with a second-inning walk to Brennan Boesch accounting for Detroit's lone baserunner on the night.
"I don't care who it came from, we needed one," said Garza, who struck out six and tied a career high with his 11th win. "We've been on way too many of those in the last year. We've seen three of those and we've seen some almost happen. We needed one just for our own confidence."
Tampa Bay was the victim of a no-hitter twice earlier this season, including a perfect game by Oakland's Dallas Braden on May 9. Former Ray Edwin Jackson also held his old team hitless while with Arizona on June 25, and Chicago White Sox ace Mark Buehrle's unforgettable perfect game came against Tampa on July 23, 2009.
The Rays seemed to be on their way to another hitless night on Monday, as Detroit starter Max Scherzer didn't allow one over the first 5 2/3 innings of the contest. That streak came to an end when Matt Joyce belted a grand slam on a full-count pitch to snap a scoreless deadlock in the bottom of the sixth.
Tampa Bay had loaded the bases on a pair of walks and an interference call on Tigers catcher Gerald Laird.
"I honestly had the approach where I was going to hit a hard ground ball up the middle," said Joyce. "You know, 3-2, it was a fastball and I put good wood on it."
Scherzer (7-8) left after giving up a single to Jason Bartlett following Joyce's slam and was reached for four runs (three earned) while striking out eight over his 5 2/3-inning stint.
Carl Crawford added a solo homer later on for Tampa Bay, which has now won three in a row and remained three games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East. The Rays lead the Wild Card standings by five games over Boston.
Detroit, on the other hand, has now dropped 10 of their last 13 and fallen three games back of Chicago for the top spot in the AL Central. The Tigers have also lost eight straight on the road and are a woeful 16-30 as the visitor this year.
The Tigers will turn to ace Justin Verlander tonight in hopes of getting back on track. The All-Star hurler has been one of the few recent bright spots for the sputtering club as of late, as he's won four straight and seven of his last eight decisions to improve to 12-5 over 20 overall starts in 2010. The 2006 AL Rookie of the Year honoree has also been able to pitch deep in games, having worked into the seventh inning in 10 of his last 13 trips to the hill.
The hard-throwing righty kept up his strong recent form by limiting Toronto to two runs over eight innings to lead Detroit to a 5-2 triumph last Thursday at Comerica Park. He's also one of the few Tiger pitchers to have some success on the road, bringing a 5-3 record with a 4.99 earned run average in 10 away starts into tonight's clash.
The Rays are well aware of Verlander's abilities, considering the 27-year-old boasts a 4-0 record with a 3.55 ERA in six career meetings with Tampa Bay. He's prevailed in both of his two previous starts at Tropicana Field and allowed only four runs in a combined 13 innings over those games.
Verlander has also thrown a no-hitter once in his career, having accomplished the feat against Milwaukee on June 12, 2007. He may have to be in top form again tonight, considering how a Detroit offense that's missing three key regulars in Magglio Ordonez (fractured right ankle), Brandon Inge (broken hand) and Carlos Guillen (calf strain) has fared of late.
Detroit did sweep a three-game set from the Rays at Tropicana Field last September and won six of eight overall meetings between the clubs in 2009.
Verlander's counterpart this evening, James Shields, has also performed quite well when called upon in this series. The Tampa righty sports a 3-0 mark with a 3.93 ERA in six lifetime starts against Detroit.
Unlike Verlander, Shields hasn't been on top of his game as of late. The durable 28-year-old has permitted four or more runs in five of his last six outings and has posted a substandard 7.25 ERA in a 10-start stretch dating back to May 30. He's lost eight of his last 11 decisions as well and had problems pitching at home, where the California native carries an unwanted 1-5 record and 5.59 ERA in nine 2010 starts.
Shields was able to notch a win by battling through 6 1/3 innings at Baltimore this past Wednesday, surrendering four runs on eight hits in the Rays' 5-4 decision.