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.
When you think of Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Garza, usually the words patience, consistency and cool under pressure do not immediately come to your mind. Garza has always had the reputation on the Rays of being the lone wolf, the agitated always combustible pitcher who take everything a bit too personal, and craves perfection. Well, after tonight, we just might see a different side of Garza, because once you have had the ultimate confidence booster….A No-Hitter, the rest of the season seems to be on a rail sometimes.
And the beginning of the evening saw Garza with his I-Pod at his side bopping his head to his pre-game musical mix almost invisible within the confines of Tropicana Field. Even as Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine was adding a few darker goatee touches to the image of the Matt Garza bobblehead on the Rightfield wall, Garza seemed immersed in his own hip-hop World tonight. And even as he began throwing in the Rays Bullpen before the game, he did not produce his usual “pop” when catcher Kelly Shoppach caught him tonight.
His ball seemed to flow off his hand tonight. His breaking ball was snapping with a nice downward spiral, and his fastball seemed to have a little more movement than usual. It was almost as if Garza and the ball knew something we all did not know yet. But as the Rays game began tonight against the Detroit Tigers, Garza seemed to be in a different set of parameters.
But early on, it almost seems as if both Garza and Detroit’s starter Max Scherzer were occupying that same unique space of rare air and traded zeros back and forth as both starting pitchers saw hitters being sent down 1-2-3 until Garza made the first blip on the radar by walking Brennan Boesch on 7 pitches in the top of the second inning. This removed the “perfect” label from Garza’s outing. Boesch was quickly erased from the basepaths by a 5-4-3 Double Play to end the scoring threat by the Tigers.
After his walk to Boesch, Garza sent down the next 22 Tiger hitters in a row to secure the first No-Hitter in Rays history. Now only two National League teams, the New York Mets and the San Deigo Padres are the lone members of the non No-Hitters Club. What was really impressive is the fact that before tonight’s game Garza had gotten close before on June 26,2008 when he lost both his shutout and a No-Hitter by giving up a Home Run to Hanley Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Before tonight’s No-Hitter, the farthest a Rays pitcher had gone without surrendering a hit was actually shared by two players. Rays leftie Tony Saunders went 7.2 innings on 4/22/1999 against the Baltimore Orioles, and former Rays First Round Draft pick Dewon Brazelton went 7.3 innings against the Florida Marlins on 6/23/2004 before surrendering their first hits of the night. But as the innings seemed to progress, Garza seemed to gain more composure and confidence as the night commenced. On the night, Garza had only one 3 ball, 2 strike count( Gerald Laird/ 3rd Inning) before getting into a bit of a jam to begin the seventh inning.
Both Austin Jackson and Will Rhymes fought back to identical 3 ball, 2 strike counts before going down and preserving the night for Garza in the top of the seventh inning. Garza got Jackson to fly out to B J Upton, and Rhymes hit a grounder to second baseman Reid Brignac that was easily converted for the second out. Garza got Ryan Rayburn to strikeout on four pitches to end the inning. In the top of the eighth inning, it took Garza 16 pitches to strike out the side. But mixed into that bunch was a possible problem as Garza went down 3 ball, 2 strikes to Boesch, but he ended up just watching Garza’s strikeout pitch hit Shoppach’s mitt.
Then came the top of the ninth inning with goose eggs all over the Detroit side of the scoreboard. Garza spent a little extra time composing himself behind the mound for the ninth inning visiting the rosin bag, looking into his cap for the fortitude to get this game finished on his terms. Garza quickly got a first strike on Tiger hitter Don Kelly before he fell behind with three straight pitches just above or outside the plate. On the next pitch, Kelly hit a soft grounder to Brignac, who easily converted for the first out. Laird then came up and was whiffed on four pitches by Garza to set up the night most intense moment.
In the balance was the chance for Rays immortality as Tigers Pinch Hitter Ramon Santiago came on to hit in place of shortstop David Worth. The stage was set for Garza, and all he had to do was deliver and he would be the proud owner of a No-Hitter of his own. Santiago went to a 1 ball, 1 strike count before hitting the next Garza offering to Rightfield. The ball seemed to slowly come to Ben Zobrist’s glove, but the moment it hit leather, Zobrist erupted by jumping straight up in the air and sprinting towards the increasing mob of Rays players at the mound.
Even as the excitement and emotions were swirling all around Garza, he still seemed as cool as a cucumber and a bit oblivious to what had just happened to him. Even in the post game interviews, Garza seemed unusually relaxed and calm, a bit of cool “Zen” to him. But maybe it was the realization that he has so much to offer this Rays team. That maybe by going down into that fifth slot in the Rays rotation he can preserve and protect a few more Rays wins. Or maybe we just saw one of the last steps of pitching evolution tonight with Garza.
Tonight was his night to shine like the moon outside. Big, bold and bright, with clarity and instant confidence. Just a few days ago a local Sports Radio icon began to question Garza and his pitching abilities. He wondered if we might have seen the best of Garza and would see a slow progression downward now. Guess this outing firmly put that question into your face like a shaving cream pie.
A night like tonight can define a players and take him to another level, if he lets it. I got a feeling the sky is the limit right now for Garza, or at least he can go outside right now and howl at that big old bright full moon. The first No-Hitter in Rays history is now firmly in the books by a guy who has always let little things frustrate him, but tonight, the only frustration felt by Garza is if his pitching glove is off to the Baseball Hall of Fame tomorrow.
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