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Mash unit a hit

Mash unit a hit
Three homers and Garza's strong pitching give the Rays another win at their former horror house.


BOSTON - As the Rays opened their American League title defense by taking two out of three from the Red Sox, perhaps another nod to Dan Johnson was appropriate.

It may still be too early to call it a trend, but the Rays' 4-3 victory Thursday was Tampa Bay's fifth win in its last seven games at Fenway Park. Considering the torment the old ballpark used to represent for the franchise, that's real progress, and it's no stretch to point to that midweek series in September as the inspiration for subsequent success.

Memories remain fresh of that 1-2 punch the Rays applied in September after dropping their first seven games of 2008 to make it 25 consecutive winless series at Fenway, and Johnson's pinch-hit homer that got the turnaround started has secured its place in Rays lore.

"I think it all started with the Dan Johnson series," pitcher James Shields said Thursday. "I think that gave us confidence going into the playoffs to be able to win a series here. And to be able to carry it into '09, it's a great start and a good confidence-builder. And it might put it in their heads a little bit that we can come in here and beat them."

That much should be evident by now, in the wake of another tightly contested Rays triumph driven by outstanding starting pitching.

Matt Garza limited the Red Sox to four hits and a run in his seven innings, and Manager Joe Maddon said he thought the fiery righty looked better at the end of the start than at any point earlier in the afternoon. Had it not been his first outing of the year, he might have given Garza a shot to finish it himself.

Instead, it was left to Troy Percival to record his first adventurous save of the season, ensuring that the three home runs that provided all of Tampa Bay's offense for the day weren't wasted. It was a bit dicey at the end, but the Rays again found a way to close the deal at a one-time house of horrors.

"It definitely feels like we've got a team that can come in here and compete any time and get wins like we did the last two games," outfielder Carl Crawford said. "We didn't really feel uncomfortable like we did in the past."

The Rays have earned the right to the measure of confidence that comes naturally these days, and games such as Thursday's only reinforce it.

One player who probably will be in the minors at this time next week, Matt Joyce, and another who figures to grab only a start a week or so over the course of the season, Shawn Riggans, each contributed solo homers. And the stars weren't left out, either, with Evan Longoria providing the rest of the offense against Daisuke Matsuzaka with a two-run drive over the Green Monster in the third.

Between effective pitching and contributions from just about every position player who got into the game, it followed a formula the Rays perfected last season and would like to continue - especially here.

"We just wanted to establish ourselves - take the first series and get off on the right foot," Garza said. "We just wanted to set the tone early and let people know that it wasn't a fluke and we're here to battle. We're here to stick around for a while."

Reporter Marc Lancaster can be reached at (813) 259-7227.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo: Evan Longoria connects for one of the Rays' three homers that accounted for all of their runs in Thursday's victory at Fenway Park.

Copyright ? 2009, The Tampa Tribune and may not be republished without permission. E-mail

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Added: April 13, 2009

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