- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2008

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon talks all the time about trying to turn Tropicana Field into the “the Pit” — a ballpark that is a miserable place for opposing teams to play.

Well, the surprising Rays seem to be on their way to doing just that.

Matt Garza took a four-hitter into the eighth inning and Carl Crawford snapped a scoreless tie with a fifth-inning single last night, helping the Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-0 for their 10th win in 11 home games.

Although attendance in the domed stadium continues to lag (13,635 on Friday night), the Rays improved the second-best home record in the AL to 17-8. They have won 11 of 15 games overall, and their 13 wins in May are a franchise record.

“You need a pitching performance like we got,” manager Joe Maddon said after Garza, Trever Miller and Troy Percival combined on Tampa Bay’s sixth shutout of the season, all of them at Tropicana Field.

The Orioles have been shut out two of their past three games and were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Garza (3-1). They’ve been outscored 12-1 during a three-game losing streak and haven’t homered in 281/3 innings.

Garza walked four and struck out four before being replaced by Miller with one out and a runner on first in the eighth. After Aubrey Huff’s sharp grounder up the first base line was ruled foul, the Orioles‘ designated hitter grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Huff and Baltimore manager Dave Trembley both argued the call with first base umpire Ed Hickox. Trembley returned to the dugout, but was ejected by plate umpire Ed Rapuano while making a pitching change with one out in the bottom of the eighth.

“I understand Ed [Hickox] is human. He makes mistakes and obviously he made one there. You guys want to talk about replay, there’s a classic case right there. I mean it wasn’t even close,” Huff said.

“Honestly, he shouldn’t even need to overturn that. … It was clearly fair from where I was. It’s a ball I’ve hit down that line a thousands times and you think it’s an automatic double, a game changing hit because we have second and third with one out and you never know what could happen.”

Carlos Pena drove in an unearned run with an eighth-inning sacrifice fly, giving Percival a two-run lead to protect for his 14th save in 16 opportunities. The Tampa Bay closer finished the combined four-hitter with a perfect ninth.

The Rays’ sixth home shutout broke the previous team record of five in 1998. Only Cleveland (seven) has more shutouts overall.

“We had to pitch like we did,” Maddon said. “It’s been the formula — good pitching, solid defense, a timely hit now and then, and it seems to be working.”

Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie (2-5) was almost as good as Garza, allowing one run and four hits in 62/3 innings.

The right-hander limited the Rays to a pair of walks and Dioner Navarro’s third-inning single until Eric Hinske opened the fifth with a single and stole second. Crawford’s two-out RBI single made it 1-0.

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