Matt Garza's vow that he would "shove it down" the Orioles' throats Friday night proved to be more rhetoric than reality. The Tampa Bay Rays starter's performance was more of a gentle nudge, yet it was still plenty good enough to quiet an Orioles team that continues to struggle against the American League East.
Garza allowed one earned run in 52/3 innings as the Rays dealt the Orioles their third straight defeat, a listless 4-1 decision in front of an announced 13,507 at Camden Yards. It's the first three-game losing streak under manager Buck Showalter.
The Orioles (49-86) fell to 3-10 this season against the Rays and a combined 5-32 against division foes other than the Boston Red Sox. Their overall record against the AL East is 12-40, which translates into an appalling .231 winning percentage.
The Rays stayed within 11/2 games of the New York Yankees for first place in the division.
When asked about Garza's comments before the game, Showalter said, "It's not bragging if you can back it up," and downplayed any motivational value that they served.
While Orioles starter Kevin Millwood was in trouble throughout his 52/3-inning outing, Garza was mostly in control, surrendering five hits and three walks, and throwing two wild pitches. The Orioles had baserunners against Garza in every inning except the first, but they mustered only the one run on Felix Pie's sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Overall, the Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position with catcher Matt Wieters twice hitting into inning-ending groundouts with two men on. The second time was in the sixth against Chad Qualls, who relieved Garza after a four-pitch walk to Corey Patterson.
Garza, who handed the ball to Joe Maddon before the manager even reached the mound in the sixth, drawing Maddon's ire, improved to 9-1 with a 3.03 ERA in 12 career starts against the Orioles.
Millwood, meanwhile, fell to 3-15 on the season after allowing four earned runs on seven hits and a season-high-tying five walks; he has two more losses than any other pitcher in the major leagues.
Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria had RBI hits in the third inning, and Tampa Bay tacked on two more in the fourth on Reid Brignac's RBI single and Ben Zobrist's sacrifice fly.
The Rays had a chance to break the game further open in the fifth, putting runners on the corners with one out. However, Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton made a diving snag of Dan Johnson's liner and then doubled up Matt Joyce at first to end the inning.
Mark Hendrickson relieved Millwood with two out and two on in the sixth and retired eight of the 10 hitters he faced, five of them on strikeouts.
The Rays bullpen was equally as impressive. Chad Qualls, Randy Choate, Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano retired 10 of the final 12 hitters they faced to preserve Garza's 14th win.
Garza sparked some controversy before the game when he told the St. Petersburg Times for a story in Friday's edition that he had a score to settle with the Orioles, who knocked him around for seven runs, including three consecutive homers in the second inning of the Rays' 11-10 loss on July 20.
That performance against the last-place Orioles apparently served as motivation for the emotional right-hander, who threw the first no-hitter in Rays history in his next outing against the Detroit Tigers. But that didn't expunge the memories of his last visit to Camden Yards and the three consecutive homers by Luke Scott, Wigginton and Adam Jones.
"I owe them a lot of payback for the type of outing I had last time against them," Garza told the newspaper. "They had back-to-back-to-back. So I'm going to make them feel really uncomfortable in the box. So they know this [stuff] doesn't happen, so don't get used to it. I'm going to go in there, hair on fire, like I have been and go after them and say, 'Hey, you got me the first time -- well, I'm going to shove it down your throat this time.'"
Several Orioles were made aware of his comments before the game, but none appeared to be particularly angered by them, at least in front of reporters.
Showalter didn't seem very affected either.
"There are a lot of people that feel that way. They just don't say it publicly," Showalter said. "So what's the difference? I think the difference is from what you tell me, and what I've been exposed to, he just did it publicly."