Early-inning 'D' sets up Garza's historic night
Zobrist's grab preserves no-no before it really got started
ST. PETERSBURG -- Buried beneath a dazzling pitching performance, dueling no-hitters, a grand slam in the sixth and an outstanding catch in the eighth, Ben Zobrist may have made the play of the game Monday night.
In the third inning, when the idea of Matt Garza throwing the first no-hitter in Rays history wasn't in the minds of many, despite the impressive way the right-hander was throwing, Tigers shortstop Danny Worth nailed a line drive to right field. Zobrist leapt into the air with his back facing the ball, turned his glove around and reeled in the hit to deep right field.
It wasn't the kind of spectacular late-game, history-preserving play so common in no-hitters and perfect games, but it kept Garza's no-no alive and set the table for his teammates to make other key defensive plays as the night went on.
"The questionable play that no one will remember is the catch that Zobrist made in the third inning," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "Nobody will remember that one, because it just happened so early in the game that you don't think about it. Now that there's a no-hitter, it was that one that saved it."
Added Garza: "He does that all the time. He caught that, and it was just one of those great plays. ... All night, the guys were making plays."
Zobrist said he saw the ball off Worth's bat and that it was directly over his head. But it was slightly to his right -- just far enough to where he didn't have to awkwardly shift his body -- and he was well-positioned enough to make the grab.
It wasn't the only impressive play in the outfield, though. Carl Crawford crouched low to the ground and snagged a screaming line drive off the bat of Miguel Cabrera in the eighth, battling the Tropicana Field lights to make the play, which center fielder B.J. Upton said might have been more difficult than Zobrist's simply because of the glare.
"As hard as he hit that ball, a lot of things could have gone wrong," Upton said. "But Carl stayed with it and made a big play for him."
Crawford lost sight of the ball right before it hit his glove and had to act based on where he anticipated it would land, but he tried to keep his eye on it as long as he could, knowing exactly what was at stake so late in the game.
"I was just saying to myself, 'He has a no-hitter on the line,'" Crawford said. "I was just going to have to let the ball hit me somewhere or battle with it all the way. I was just happy I caught it."
The Rays infield also made a critical defensive play, although it came even earlier than Zobrist's leaping catch. Ryan Raburn slapped a ground ball down the left-field line, but Evan Longoria started off a 5-4-3 double play to end the second inning -- a sequence that allowed Garza to face the minimum 27 batters, despite walking Brennan Boesch. Longoria fielded the grounder and fired the ball to Reid Brignac at second, who quickly turned and made the throw to Carlos Pena at first.
Brignac also played a hand in the second out in the ninth inning, picking up a ground ball from Gerald Laird and making the throw to Pena.
"I was very, very excited. The fans were into it. I know all of us, we were all into it," Brignac said. "It had that nervous-like excitement feel to it. I just knew if it was hit to me I had to make a play for him, no matter where it was.
"We made the plays behind him, but there really weren't too many difficult plays to make. Guys weren't really squaring his balls up today. It was just an unbelievable effort on his part. I'm just so happy I was a part of it."
Garza expressed his gratitude toward his teammates in his comments after the game. He specifically pointed to the efforts of Zobrist, Crawford and Matt Joyce, whose his sixth-inning grand slam ended the dueling no-hitters and gave the Rays a four-run lead. But he also went out of his way to praise every players' defense and contributions toward his history-making outing Monday night.
"I don't think anybody didn't get used tonight," Garza said. "They continue to make great plays and continue to impress and continue to be clutch hitters."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.