Unbeaten mark (2-0), 1.38 ERA earns Garza ALCS MVP award

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Matt Garza's promising first season with the Tampa Bay Rays just got even better.

Garza shut down the Boston Red Sox in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series Sunday night, leading Tampa Bay to its first pennant and earning the MVP award.

He allowed one run and two hits over seven-plus innings in Tampa Bay's 3-1 victory in the clinching game. He went 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts in the series.

"I took today's game just like another game in June," he said. "That's the only way I could do it."

Garza got off to an ominous start when Dustin Pedroia, the second batter of the game, homered into the left-field seats. Garza threw down the resin bag and told himself what he needed to do.

"Just calm down," he said.

"Take one pitch at a time," Garza said. "I just told myself, that's it. I can't give up anything more."

And that was all the Red Sox got.

"He gave us fits. He gave us nothing out there," Boston manager Terry Francona said.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander was one of several Rays who could've walked away with the series MVP award. B.J. Upton hit four homers and drove in 11 runs, Evan Longoria set an ALCS record by homering in four straight games and Carlos Pena went deep three times.

Garza wound up with the trophy.

"I didn't know if today was my last start of the year or what, so I just went out there and emptied my tank and said hey, here goes, we'll see what happens," he said.

He will indeed get another start this year, against the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

The Rays acquired Garza and slick-fielding shortstop Jason Bartlett last offseason in a six-player deal that sent Delmon Young to Minnesota. Both Rays played key roles in the run to the AL East title.

Garza admitted Sunday that when the trade was made "I was disappointed for a while."

Those feelings changed in spring training.

"The guys took me in with open arms and said, 'Hey, you're a piece of this puzzle that we're going to put together.'"

Garza was shaky in his first postseason start, allowing five runs and seven hits over six innings against the Chicago White Sox in the division series. He got the decision in Tampa Bay's only loss in the first round.

He bounced back against Boston, yielding just one run in six-plus innings in the Rays' 9-1 victory in Game 3 at Fenway Park.

Garza, the Twins' first-round draft pick in 2005 out of Fresno State, went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA this season for Tampa Bay. His 30 starts and 184 2/3 innings were more than he pitched in his first two years combined.

He had enough left for 118 pitches Sunday night. He struck out nine and walked three.

"He was a stallion tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He did everything he could, and I'm so proud of him and what he's done this year and how far he's come."