Matt Garza's wild ride includes no-hitter
Up-and-down season jumps back up with no-hitter against the Tigers at Tropicana Field
Tampa Bay righty Matt Garza's 5-0 victory over Detroit on Monday night leaves the New York Mets and San Diego Padres as the only teams in baseball without a no-hitter. Considering how things have gone this season, they have to feel like the only tourists in Cabo San Lucas without a tan.
Just have faith and keep running your starters out there, Jerry Manuel and Bud Black: It's bound to happen eventually.
Garza, 26, succeeded where Dewon Brazelton, Tony Saunders and dozens of other aspiring Rays (Devil or otherwise) have failed since the franchise's inception in 1998. He overshadowed Dan Haren's painful debut in Anaheim and the performances of Minnesota's Francisco Liriano, Ron Mahay and Anthony Slama, who spun a nifty five-hitter in a 19-1 victory over Kansas City.
In the course of pitching baseball's fifth no-hitter this season, Garza provided a momentary distraction from the non-waiver trade deadline rumor mill. He found himself in the middle of an infield scrum after retiring pinch hitter Ramon Santiago on a routine fly ball for out No. 27 and earned a shaving-cream pie in the face from teammate Evan Longoria.
All things considered, it was a pretty good night for a guy whose ERA still stands at 4.06.
Garza's talent is unquestioned. But he's having what is typically referred to as an "up-and-down'' year. It began with three straight eight-inning starts in April; he's also been hammered by the Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles. During an action-packed week in early July, Garza got torched by Boston, came back two days later against the Red Sox to record his first career save, and then twirled six shutout, one-hit innings against Cleveland.
If David Price and Jeff Niemann are the stoic, focused college guys on the Tampa Bay staff, Garza is the emotional California kid who's trying to live down a reputation for being stubborn. Manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey love his competitiveness and energy. But he's tested the staff's patience at times since coming over from Minnesota in the Delmon Young trade in 2007.
"Matt's an extremely nice guy,'' Hickey said late Monday night. "But he's got the loud voice and he's always bouncing around. You might be in a little bit more of a somber mood or trying to get the job done, and here he comes. You can hear his voice about 10 yards before he gets there.''
Garza announced his presence with authority Monday -- spitting, pacing and opening and closing his glove with hummingbird-like speed as he stared in for the sign. The Rays got a sense that Garza might be in for a big night when he retired Austin Jackson, Will Rhymes and Johnny Damon on 13 straight fastballs in the first inning. But the real indication that Garza brought his A-game came in the second, when he struck out Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera in a six-pitch confrontation.
All three strikes were swinging -- against fastballs, no less. That kind of thing just doesn't happen to Cabrera very often.
With his live fastball and hard slider, Garza has drawn occasional comparisons to John Smoltz. But his approach against Detroit was more reminiscent of Jim Palmer; he was content to keep pumping fastballs until the overmatched Tigers showed they could catch up to them. Garza threw 120 pitches in all, and 101 of those were heaters.
As the tension built at Tropicana Field, observant newspaper scribes began to notice an eerie chain of events:
In December 2008, the Tigers traded outfielder Matt Joyce to Tampa Bay for pitcher Edwin Jackson. Then Detroit dealt Jackson to Arizona for Max Scherzer as one component in a massive three-team deal. On Monday night, Scherzer held Tampa Bay without a hit for 5 2/3 innings -- until giving up a grand slam to none other than Joyce.
You'd have thought Garza would have been bouncing off the dugout walls with nervous energy during Tampa Bay's eventful bottom of the sixth, but he didn't mind sitting around watching as Scherzer made 36 pitches and four pickoff throws while coming unraveled.
"Hell, no,'' Garza said. "Joyce hit a grand slam, and I was pumped as hell. I thought, 'He broke one of [the no-hitters] up, so thank God.'"
In the end, it would all come down to Garza and his fastball. He kept his emotions in check to retire Don Kelly, Gerald Laird and Santiago in order in the ninth inning and set off a celebration at the Trop. Now he'll try to keep building on that momentum in his next start.
"Matt's a very emotional kid,'' Hickey said. "He has very high highs and low lows, and I think that's probably the biggest part of his maturation as a pitcher -- to keep it on an even keel.''
If Garza can put on a show even remotely similar to the one he staged Monday night, he can be as emotional as he wants to be.
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