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Former doghouse resident now a bulldog

Former doghouse resident now a bulldog
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Matt Garza has Josh Beckett intensity.

A fierce competitor, tough, stubborn, and a guy you'd want to give the ball to with something on the line. Frankly, he had been pitching like the current version of Josh Beckett - inconsistent.

But Garza was a bulldog last night. He came right at the Red Sox hitters with the nastiest stuff. He challenged David Ortiz. Made Jason Bay look sick. For 7 2/3 innings, Garza was in charge. If not for Jacoby Ellsbury's grounder up the middle that Garza couldn't field - the fleet-footed Ellsbury beat it out for an infield hit to lead off the seventh - we might be talking about a no-hitter.

The 25-year-old former Minnesota Twin allowed one hit, one walk, and struck out 10. He easily devoured the Sox in a 13-0 win to improve to 2-2.

Both teams were tired because of travel, getting into Florida at close to 4 in the morning yesterday. There was very little activity during warm-ups. The Sox didn't show much life once the game began and Garza kept them in their snooze with an assortment of hard stuff and well-placed offspeed pitches. Much like Beckett, when Garza is on you're going back to the dugout muttering under your breath. Yet he still hasn't smoothed out his game. In 2008, he compiled an 11-9 record with a 3.70 ERA, but crafted an 0.64 ERA in his wins, best in the majors, and allowed no earned runs seven times.

Garza picked up this season where he left off in 2008. His other win came April 9, a 4-3 decision over the Sox . He allowed four hits and one run with five strikeouts and three walks. His ERA against the American League East last season was 2.54 with a 7-4 record. His division ERA was second only to the Sox' Jon Lester (2.48).

Garza was 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA in his first two starts, but in his last two starts before last night, he was 0-2 with an 8.74 ERA.

Including the AL Championship Series last season, Garza is 7-1 with a 2.54 ERA against the Sox .

``Since he came over from Minnesota, he's developed so much confidence,'' said a National League scout last night. ``He's matured tremendously from the kid that was in Minnesota. He used to get into the doghouse over there. He's not been in any doghouse with the Rays. He's fun to watch.''

Garza fights himself sometimes. ``When he wakes up in the morning he's amped up,'' said Rays manager Joe Maddon. ``So the key is to get him to stick to a game plan. That's what he did last night.''

``I was pretty pumped up about the no-hitter through six,'' Garza said. ``But I was more pumped up about not having walked my first guy until the eighth.''

Once Ellsbury eeked out the infield hit - shortstop Jason Bartlett almost made the play - Maddon wondered how long he'd keep his pitcher in the game given the Rays were winning by a landslide.

``I thought the best game he's pitched for us was against Florida [June 26 last year, one-hitter, complete game],'' said Maddon. ``Tonight, every pitch I thought he was even a little bit firmer. A better selection of his pitches were more intelligent. Every thing was really in synch for him. It was really fun to watch. If they didn't get that hit I would have let him go 125 to 130 pitches.''

Garza cited an Aug. 15 game vs. Texas, a two-hit shutout, as his best.

``My arm felt more alive then than tonight,'' he said. ``But I just put the game plan in place and just did what [catcher Michel Hernandez] and I have been doing all week. There's no reason to walk guys when you have a defense like we have and they can make plays for you. Bartlett almost made that play in the seventh. The last time [a 5-2 loss at Oakland] I was really stubborn and tonight I just got out of my own way.''

Garza wanted to kick himself for allowing the hit to Ellsbury because he felt he just missed making the play.

``When he first hit it I thought he hit it hard, so I dove and I just watched the ball go right under my glove and I'm like, `Oh Barty!' [Bartlett] almost made a great play there. [Evan Longoria] came up to me afterward and said, `It's over, so let's go get a double play.' ''

Garza didn't like the silent treatment from his teammates in the fifth and sixth innings while the no-hitter was going on.

``It was weird,'' he said. ``I was trying to start conversations with guys and nobody would talk to me.

``I knew I had a no-hitter because I hadn't let a guy on base. What [ticked] me off even more was walking Ortiz in the same inning because my goal coming in was not to walk anyone.''

Garza acknowledged that while it's early in the season, the Rays (9-14), needed to beat the Sox .

``Confidence-wise, we were going up against their best guy [Beckett],'' he said.

And beat him, with Beckett-like intensity.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: May 1, 2009

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