There isn't a team in baseball that relishes seeing Roy Halladay listed as the opposing pitcher, but the Rays have stumbled upon a combination lately that the Blue Jays' ace can't seem to crack.
All they need is a brilliant performance from Matt Garza and a huge hit from Evan Longoria and they're in business, as they showed Tuesday in beating Toronto 3-0 for their second victory against Halladay in 10 days.
Garza was unflappable in recording his first complete-game shutout as he went the distance for the second time in just over a month, and Longoria's two-run double in the eighth was just what the Rays needed after clinging to Eric Hinske's third-inning homer through much of the game.
Tampa Bay became just the second team to beat Halladay three times in a season in his 11-year career. The Red Sox handed him three of his seven losses last year.
You have to work for any runs you get against the right-hander, but the Rays could have stopped after Hinske's solo shot against his former teammate leading off the third because Garza was that good. He scattered five hits, walked one, struck out five and allowed only two Toronto hitters past first base to top his complete game at Florida on June 26.
"When you face Halladay, you're not going to beat him up, ever, so you have to pitch well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That's been the mantra and we've got to keep doing that."
Garza faced only 30 batters - three more than the minimum - as he benefited from double plays turned behind him that ended the first, second and seventh innings.
Longoria started the last of those, a rather routine play sandwiched between two spectacular moments in a four-batter span. He had recorded the first out of the seventh by going into foul territory well behind the bag to grab an Alex Rios chopper and throw him out, then made an even better play by charging in on a nubber by Matt Stairs to open the eighth, throwing him out from foul territory without setting his feet.
"When you have defenders making plays like that consistently, it really bolsters you," Maddon said.
So do any runs the Rays manage to put across the plate lately, especially against a pitcher of Halladay's quality. Hinske got the first one Tuesday in unusual fashion, hammering a 1-0 pitch out to right-center and sprinting around the bases as the ball hit the façade and rolled back toward the infield.
Hinske and third-base coach Tom Foley had seen second-base umpire Mike Winters signal safe rather than a home run and thought the ball was still in play. The Toronto outfielders knew it was gone and didn't make much of an effort to get the ball back in, but the Rays' dugout was treated to the sight of Hinske racing for what he thought was an inside-the-parker.
"He about died when he came into the dugout," Longoria said.
The homer was the 100th of Hinske's career, 78 of them coming in a Blue Jays uniform. But it was the pitcher rather than that opponent that made the milestone special, he said.
"A home run's a home run, whether it's against a team you played for or any other team," Hinske said. "But it's a privilege to hit it off Roy Halladay, because he's such a good pitcher and I played with him for so long that I know what he's capable of."
Garza clung to that run until the eighth, when B.J. Upton walked and Carl Crawford singled with one out. That brought up Longoria, who managed to summon some of the magic he had 10 days earlier in hitting a grand slam off Halladay at Tropicana Field. He muscled a cutter into the gap in right-center, bringing home both runners, and Garza could breathe easier.
But there was no bravado from the rookie afterward.
"I don't have him figured out," Longoria said. "It's a constant adjustment."
The same could be said for the Rays as a whole. But if they can keep finding ways to win games like this, they have to feel good about maintaining the division lead that grew to two games Tuesday when Boston lost again.