10/09/10 10:51 PM ET
Garza comes up big when Rays need it most
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
The fierce righty walked off the mound with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh, his team trailing the Rangers, 2-1, in Game 3 of this American League Division Series.
Yet Garza, with his largely dominant performance, bought his team time to get its struggling offense out of neutral.
And by the end of the day, Garza and Tampa Bay were all smiles. Courtesy of their 6-3 victory, they live to see another day, which will come on Sunday, when the Rays try to even the series at 2 and send it back to Tropicana Field for a winner-take-all Game 5.
Though Garza's name is not in the win column, his performance is one that his team needed to survive.
"And it was all set up by Matt Garza," said manager Joe Maddon. "Pitching the way he did permitted that to happen. Without Garza pitching the way he did, it doesn't happen."
Over six-plus strong innings, Garza yielded five hits and two runs, just one of which was earned. He walked two and struck out four and gave his team the type of edgy pitching it so badly needed.
"Like I said, I've been anxious and champing at the bit for the whole time," Garza said. "I came in with a plan and stuck to it really close. The only pitch that I really want to take back is the fastball to [Ian] Kinsler. I would throw the same pitch but [in] a different location."
That pitch to Kinsler was deposited high and deep to left for a solo shot that broke a 1-1 tie. That pitch was also his last of the day. Maddon came out to get Garza but had faith that the team would pick him up, just like he had picked them up all day.
"We're all pieces of this puzzle," said Garza. "I knew my guys would come up and do something big, because that's all we do. We scrap. We're not going to hit the ball out of the yard all the time, but we're going to manufacture runs."
But Garza refused to let the Rangers manufacture them. Their first run was set up only because of a passed ball by catcher John Jaso.
And aside from that one misfire to Kinsler, Garza was pretty much nails the rest of the day.
"He came out and was executing pitches," said Jaso, who came through with the go-ahead hit. "He threw his slider really well and was getting his curveball over, especially to [Josh] Hamilton. That right there pretty much allowed our offense to take over later in the game."
Perhaps Garza's most anxious moment came in the bottom of the sixth. Elvis Andrus had stolen second, even though replays showed he wasn't on the bag and should have been ruled out. Garza was a little fired up at the time and argued his case, but to no avail. He then walked Vladimir Guerrero, and Nelson Cruz laced one toward the middle. Cruz's hit seemed to have RBI single written all over it, but shortstop Jason Bartlett lunged and snagged it out of the air, ending the threat.
"I left a slider too much over the plate and he hit a laser, and I look around real big-eyed and I see Bartlett," said Garza. "That was a huge momentum swing for us. For our bullpen to come in and close it out and put up zeroes like they've been doing all year, that's what we need. We need to get our starters deep and let our relievers do the rest."
This performance by Garza in a win-or-go-home situation was eerily reminiscent of Game 7 of the 2008 AL Championship Series, when he fired a gem against the Red Sox that vaulted the Rays into the World Series.
Garza clearly knows what type of mentality he needs for the most crucial games.
"The level of execution has to be raised," he said. "That's what's going to win the ballgame -- the level of execution. Today I was fortunate enough to execute most of my pitches."
His execution once again was a season-saver.
"That's just him," said center fielder B.J. Upton. "He's been that guy for us all year. I think when a lot of us found out he was getting the ball in Game 3, down 2-0, we were happy. He's definitely the guy you want in that situation."