Garza unfazed by Fall Classic pressure
Game 3 starter's unflappable attitude paying off in playoffs
ST. PETERSBURG -- The stare came in the sixth inning of the pivotal Game 7, with Matt Garza 10 outs shy of launching the Rays into the World Series and securing the American League Championship Series MVP Award for his trophy case.
The Tampa Bay right-hander had allowed a one-out single to Boston's Jason Bay, putting runners on first and second with one out. Contemplating a pitching change, Rays manager Joe Maddon trotted to the mound and asked of his hurler, "How do you feel?"
Garza made Maddon's decision an easy one, dispatching Maddon with the off-hand response: "Great. You ain't taking me out of this game. This is my game and I'm going to finish it off."
He did everything he could to make good on that icy-stared promise, moving Tampa Bay into the eighth inning with a 118-pitch gem before David Price recorded the final four outs and vaulted the Rays into the Fall Classic.
Having posted a 1.38 ERA in two ALCS starts to help slay the defending World Series champs, Garza now gets to plead his case as the Rays look to take advantage of the best-of-seven set in front of a hostile Citizens Bank Park crowd.
Beating Jon Lester twice in Games 3 and 7 of the ALCS and becoming the youngest pitcher to win MVP honors, Garza said that he drew some inspiration from his rough performance against the White Sox in the AL Division Series.
Garza took the loss in his Game 3 start at U.S. Cellular Field, allowing five runs in six innings, the only time Tampa Bay lost in sending Chicago home after four games.
"I just didn't want to have that sour taste in my mouth like I did after the Chicago game," Garza said. "I just kept telling myself, 'I don't want to end my year like this.' I don't want to have that taste going into the offseason, because it would be bitter. And then how we did it was bittersweet. So I wanted to go out there and kind of make a statement to myself."
TALE OF THE TAPE: Game 3
|2008 regular season|
59 BB, 128 K
|16-7, 3.71 ERA|
62 BB, 123 K
|Key stat||.245 opponent
(9th in AL)
|Allowed 20 HR|
(fewest since 2003)
|2008||3 GS, 2-1, 3.32||2 GS, 0-2, 13.50|
|Career||3 GS, 2-1, 3.32||7 GS, 3-3, 4.11|
|At Citizens Bank Park|
|2008||No record||16 GS, 6-4, 4.61|
|Career||No record||34 GS, 16-8, 4.60|
|Against this opponent|
|2008||No record||No record|
|Career||No record||15 GS, 8-4, 2.85|
|Loves to face||Matt Stairs, 1-for-10||Rocco Baldelli, 1-for-10|
|Hates to face||N/A||Carlos Pena, 10-for-20, 5 XBH, .950 SLG|
|Why he'll win||3.38 ERA since All-Star break (incl. playoffs)||7 HR in last 101 1/3 IP (incl. playoffs)|
|Pitcher beware||4.53 ERA, 14 HR in 91 1/3 IP on road||Opponents hit .294/.349/.447 at CBP|
|Bottom line||Rocky on road||Unhappy at home|
Not that it necessarily started out that way. In fact, it was later reported that Garza charged up the dugout runway in a huff after completing the first inning, after allowing a Dustin Pedroia home run.
But whereas Garza might have become unhinged a year ago, the pitcher the Rays acquired from the Twins with shortstop Jason Bartlett in November has become something of a pet project for Maddon.
"We've had a battle through Garza's situation; he'll be the first one to relay the story," Maddon said. "You take him coming from Minnesota, a tremendous organization in developing young pitchers -- one of the best, I think. But it was a matter of turning him around internally."
The difference was that Garza did not let the early setback ruin his evening, channeling his emotions -- yet another dividend from the work Garza did with sports psychologist Ken Ravizza, a Maddon acquaintance from the 1980s who performed the work Garza lauded as a mental adjustment.
"Keep [the emotions] out of the start," Garza said. "I just tell myself I've got to go one pitch at a time, not look ahead of any hitter, not even look back at any pitch I've thrown. Once a pitch is gone, it's over. I can't control what happens after that."
Finishing his first full season in the big leagues, it will be that renewed, refreshed attitude that Garza will need to bring on Saturday, as he walks to the mound for the Game 3 start against the Phillies.
Citizens Bank Park is typically a passionate place to play, but being on the wrong side of 15 years of postseason anticipation should rile up the Philadelphia fanatics even more -- a fact of life that Garza just isn't expending a whole lot of energy worrying about.
"I anticipated a ton of noise in Chicago, and I anticipated a lot of noise in Fenway," Garza said. "There's even more noise here at The Trop. Whatever noise they bring, I'm all for it. You just have to block it out."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.