The teams are going in opposite directions now as the surging Red Sox meet Garza and the struggling Rays on Thursday night to open a four-game series.
Boston (14-7) fell 3-1 in Game 7 of last year’s AL championship series at Tampa Bay (8-14) as it failed to complete a rally from a 3-1 deficit. The Rays advanced to their first World Series behind Garza (1-2, 4.97 ERA), who gave up one run over seven innings in the decisive game and was named ALCS MVP.
The Red Sox split four postseason games at Tampa Bay, but their poor play there in the regular season was a major reason they settled for the wild card. The AL East champion Rays went 8-1 at home versus Boston in 2008.
This series could be different. The Red Sox are the hottest team in baseball with 12 wins in 13 games while the Rays have fallen into last place in the division after dropping every series since opening the season by taking two of three in Boston.
“We’re not really pleased with what’s going on, there’s no question about that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We should have been able to win more than one series to this point. But it’s early. It truly is early and I’m very optimistic that we can turn this around.
“I have a lot of faith in our guys, it’s just not working right now.”
The Red Sox will try to solve Garza, who is 6-1 with a 2.91 ERA in eight starts against them including the postseason. He earned a 4-3 victory at Boston on April 9 by yielding one run over seven innings.
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 6.38 ERA in three outings since that win. He allowed four runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 5-2 loss at Oakland on Saturday.
The Rays began looking ahead to this series after losing 8-3 to Minnesota on Wednesday to finish a 3-6 road trip.
“It would be big if we were able to win some games against the Red Sox, that’s for sure,” Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir said. “We just need a kick start. We just need to get going.”
Boston bounced back after its 11-game winning streak was snapped Tuesday with a dramatic 6-5 win in Cleveland the next night. Jonathan Van Every hit his first major league home run in the 10th inning as the Red Sox rallied from a 5-0 deficit after five innings.
“That was a good win,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “I think I’m probably understating it a little bit.”
Francona will turn to Josh Beckett (2-1, 6.00), who will try to beat the Rays for the second time this year. Beckett allowed one run over seven innings on April 7 as the Red Sox opened the season with a 5-3 victory, improving the right-hander to 6-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 11 career starts versus Tampa Bay.
Beckett gave up eight runs over five innings and did not get a decision in his last outing, a 16-11 win over the New York Yankees on Saturday.