Thought processes and conversations started under the tilted cap of Tropicana Field. Someday everyone will know the Rays play in St. Petersburg, Florida, not TAMPA, or the fictitious city of TAMPA BAY.
Matt Garza….Mind Freak?
Lloyd Fox/Balti Sun
Bravado and baseball seem to go together like a ball and a glove. They both have their rightful place in the scheme of things, and both can immediately set the tone or environment for the way the game will be played. So it is not rare that once in a while a player, or even a pitcher will spout out their wisdom through their vocal chords instead of first proving their notions out on the field of play.
And that same instance happened recently during the lull between Batting Practice and before Rays starter Matt Garza took the mound this past Friday night against the Baltimore Orioles. Garza, who gave up an uncharacteristic 4 Home Runs during his last outing against the Orioles let off a full head of his internal steam by telling some of the beat reporters encircling the Rays clubhouse looking for a story that he wanted to “shove it (the ball) down their (Orioles) throats” during his upcoming outing.
And after Garza’s comments, reporters immediately sought out a member of the Orioles for their comments. Garza ended up actually getting a pretty unusual figure in his corner for his outrageous pre-game comments. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter actually understood the broad shouldered intention and the competitive nature and passion of Garza’s statements, and basically shrugged off the statements as someone just letting off the steam of a bad prior outing with a few choice words. Showalter told a swarm of reporter’s before Friday night game: “There’s a lot of people that feel that way they just don’t say it publicly. So what’s the difference? A lot of them feel that way. Certainly you got a pitcher (Garza) that was a real break from the norm. Pitchers do have a memory plus guys that pitch once every fifth day like that. I think it’s something a lot of guys feel. I think the difference is from what you tell me, and what I’ve been exposed to, he just did it publicly. It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Surprising to me was the way Garza seemed to surprise some players amongst the Orioles with his pre-game comments. Here was a power pitcher who came into that night’s game as one of the most frequent fastball hurlers in the American League, who suddenly went another direction and threw more breaking balls for strikes during his outing than almost any other time in his brief Major League career.
Elaine Thompson/AP Could Garza have actually been trying to provide a few tasty and misguided morsels for the Orioles to digest with the Orioles hitters more than eager to get to the plate hoping that Garza threw his heat towards the plate, but instead he circumvented his usual style and went 180 degree against his norm by throwing mostly off-speed and breaking pitches. Could Garza have provided a little incentive for the Orioles to come out looking for his fastball, and instead Garza gave them a dose of not too subtle reverse psychology that worked to his advantage with flying colors.
Might Hickey and Rays Manager Joe Maddon instituted a little psychological bait and switch by circumventing Garza’s game plan by throwing a large dose of breaking stuff during that night’s outing?
I want to believe that the Rays game plan mysteriously changed after Garza’s hostile comments, but I can clearly see it being a clever diversion by the spitting Cobra and his Manager to bolster his increasing frustrations to his opposition and get the Orioles hitters to expect fastballs instead of feasting on a hard diet of breaking pitches all evening.
I also know that firmly in the back of his mind, Garza knows that his future Rays starts for the rest of the season might be uncharacteristically limited to about a 100-pitch count and may have actually been a remote cause of the whole nasty scenario. Garza has an “old school” pitchers mentality of wanting the ball every 5 days, and that might be limited in his starts with a possible playoff berth on the horizon. When Garza approached the predetermined 100-pitch mark, Rays Manager Joe Maddon immediately came out of the Rays dugout to replace Garza.
This action immediately sparked another eruption of internal frustrations that ultimately exploded within Garza as he suddenly began to walk off the pitching mound even before his Manager made it out there. You could see the dissolution in both Garza and Maddon’s faces as each passed each other on the grass section of the infield. Both showed visual signs of mutual frustrations by each other’s actions and reactions, and Maddon immediately headed straight for his emotional pitcher to resolve the issue right away upon re-entering the Visitor’s dugout.
This is not to say there was not a highly volatile frustration level burning within both of them at that moment because their body language as they talked near the end of the dugout showed that both were open and responsive to each others opinions but highly irritated . Either way, this will not be the last bulletin board fodder provided by a player or pitcher with the game dwindling down and the pressure firmly steeping higher and higher nightly. More and more with the game moving towards zero we will hear snippets and muses escaping from the sanctums of the clubhouses.
For some odd reason I think Garza ended up heading into the Rays clubhouse after last night’s game with a wicked smile across his face. Who knows for sure if Garza pulled a fast one on the Orioles, or if the sharp mind of Maddon changed the course of the game after Garza’s comments. Either way, it was a “W”, and the Rays became another step closer to the Rays clinching their second playoff berth. It could have been a ruse, or it could have been a preamble of emotions and pressure building up among the Rays with the goal in sight.
I loved Showalter’s last comments on Garza’s pre-game outburst: “That stuff’s real short lived. But in today’s world I bet you somebody here has already asked our players about it. and between the internet and friend and buddies and whatever, there’s not many secrets here.”
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