The Tampa Bay Rays are a hit on the field, if not in the seats.
The surprise AL East leaders won another game Wednesday, with Matt Garza striking out 10 in a career-high eight innings to beat the Texas Rangers 5-3, however sagging attendance continues to be a concern.
Despite being off to the best start in franchise history and beginning the day tied with the Chicago Cubs for the best record in the major leagues, the Rays drew an announced crowd of 10,927.
The first two games of the series drew 12,174 and 10,511, and Tampa Bay is last in the AL with an average of 17,938, third-lowest in the majors.
“I’ve always felt if we’ve built (the team) properly, they will come, and I think we’re doing that very well right now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Every place I’ve been, whenever there’s been attendance problems, once we get the wins, people will start showing.”
Garza (4-1) allowed two runs and four hits for the AL East leaders, who won two of three from the Rangers to hand Texas its first series loss in over a month. The Rays have won nine of their last 11 series, including six straight at home.
B.J. Upton and Akinori Iwamura delivered RBI singles off Kason Gabbard (1-2), Evan Longoria had a sacrifice fly and Carlos Pena and pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd drew walks with the bases loaded for Tampa Bay, which has won 15 of 20 games.
“The fans are missing some really good baseball,” Maddon said. “Again, having fans in this place will make a difference. Turning this place into `The Pit’ will make a difference. The more they show up, I think the better we’ll play.”
Texas, which led 2-1 after Milton Bradley’s two-run single in the fourth, was 8-0-1 in its previous nine series—the longest string for the Rangers since they were 7-0-3 from March 31-April 30, 1998.
Garza walked two and didn’t allow a hit after the fifth inning. He retiring his last nine batters after walking Josh Hamilton to begin the sixth.
Rays closer Troy Percival got the first two outs of the ninth before leaving with tightness in his left hamstring. Dan Wheeler gave up a RBI single to Frank Catalanotto but finished the combined six-hitter for his first save of the season.
Percival was scheduled undergo an MRI exam and will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
“We don’t know how serious it is,” Maddon said.
Michael Young doubled in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 14 games for Texas. One inning later, Ian Kinsler’s potential double-play grounder ricocheted off the right shin of second base umpire Chris Guccione for an infield hit that gave him a 13-game streak.
Garza set the tone for the Rays by retiring nine in a row to start the game. He began the fourth by walking Kinsler, then gave up Young’s double that bounced over the wall in left center and Bradley’s two-run single.
“I thought we had him going there for a minute,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “But he hung in there, and when you looked up, he was in the eighth inning. That’s what good pitchers do.”
The Rays scored an unearned run in the first on Upton’s RBI single and took the lead for good in the fifth when they sent 10 batters to the plate and scored four times, twice on walks with the bases loaded.
Gabbard allowed five runs, five hits and six walks in 4 1-3 innings, including the walk to Pena that snapped a 2-2 tie. Frank Francisco replaced the Texas starter and yielded Longoria’s sacrifice fly and the walk to Floyd that made 5-2.
Rangers pitchers walked nine and yielded seven hits.
“Too many walks,” Washington said. “You know that old saying about walks haunt. They certainly haunted us today.”