KANSAS CITY -- Manager Ron Washington said on Friday the Rangers were due for a "Garza-like" performance. Others might suggest the Rangers were overdue, but either way, that's what Matt Garza delivered on a cool crisp night at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday night.
This was a superb performance by any pitcher's standards, and badly needed for a team tussling for playoff position with just over a week to go in the regular season. Garza held the Royals to just five hits and a walk over eight-plus innings, not allowing a run until the ninth in pitching the Rangers to a 3-1 victory on Saturday night before a sellout crowd.
"Outstanding," Washington said. "He was locked in. He used all his pitches and commanded them all. He did exactly what he wanted to do. That was Matt."
The victory allowed the Rangers to keep pace with the Rays and the Indians in the American League Wild Card race. The Rangers remain one game behind the Rays and a half-game behind the Indians for the second spot. The Rangers and Indians are tied in the loss column.
"We're still fighting," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "It's going to be a good ending. There's going to be a lot of interesting stuff with everybody so close in the Wild Card. We're playing good baseball and today was a tremendous game by Garza."
"Obviously playing these guys with this crowd and this atmosphere, it was a nice win," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We came out and jumped out early, and for Matt to shut them down, it was nice and it was necessary."
Garza followed the advice of pitching coach Mike Maddux. During their bullpen session on Wednesday in Tampa Bay, Maddux reminded Garza that a "genius on the mound is a simple mind." Garza took that to heart against the Royals and snapped his four-game losing streak.
"I felt good," Garza said. "It felt good to get back to being me. I was trying to do too much so I tried to keep it simple. We went with the game plan of attacking and trusting myself. This is no time to work on anything, just go. No mechanical issues, just go attack and pitch."
"He threw the ball great," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He was really pounding strikes. I think he threw 70 strikes and 27 balls. He really spotted his fastball well. A good fastball, a really good slider and a good chase curveball, so he was ahead in the count all night with great stuff."
Garza came within three outs of his fourth career shutout and first since 2010. Garza took a four-hit shutout into the ninth and had only thrown 93 pitches. So Washington sent him back out there with closer Joe Nathan warming up in the bullpen. But Eric Hosmer ruined the shutout by hitting a 2-1 fastball over the left-field wall.
"He was throwing the ball well," Washington said. "There wasn't any reason to take him out. We were going batter to batter and Hosmer just caught one."
Nathan retired three straight hitters for his 40th save but Garza definitely wanted that complete game.
"They were swinging early and weren't getting good wood on the fastball until the ninth inning," Garza said. "All the hits they got were on offspeed pitches, so I stayed with it until it didn't work."
Garza settled for his first win since Aug. 19 and is now 4-5 with a 4.56 ERA in 12 starts for the Rangers. He beat Jeremy Guthrie, who was going for his 15th win of the season, but the Rangers were able to jump on him early.
Ian Kinsler started the game for the Rangers with a triple into right-center. It was the Rangers' first first-inning triple of the season and the first to lead off a game since Kinsler did it against Roy Oswalt of the Astros on June 25, 2008. Kinsler then scored on Andrus' grounder to short.
The Rangers added two more in the third after Guthrie walked Andrus and Alex Rios with one out. Adrian Beltre followed with a grounder up the middle that hit directly on second base and went through the legs of second baseman Emilio Bonifacio. Andrus scored and Rios went to third on what was scored a single. A.J. Pierzynski followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Rios.
"We caught a break with Beltre's ball," Washington said. "It's been awhile since we got a break like that."
Both Bonifacio and Guthrie said either one should have fielded the ball.
"Easy," Bonifacio said. "I think I should've caught it anyway. It hit the bag and stayed down. Maybe we'd have had a double play and maybe we'd still be playing."
"I just missed it, I had a chance," Guthrie said. "It was to my left, just down underneath my glove. Kind of a changeup -- I thought it was hit harder than it was and it got through. We had two guys have a chance to make a play, and neither of us were able to do it."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.