Matt Garza shoves.
Every announcer said it, and every tweet tweeted it:
“That was the Matt Garza the Rangers thought they were getting when they traded for him.”
That was better.
Against a hot team (winners of 17 of its last 25), in front of its third-biggest home crowd of the season, chasing its first playoff berth in 28 years, and on his own club’s heels with just two games of separation (8.5 games closer than four weeks earlier), Garza — who’d managed to contribute only 15.1 innings in his last three starts (0-3, 8.22), getting tuned up at a .349/.400/.508 rate — was exceptional.
When Ron Washington sent Garza out to the mound for the ninth inning of what was then a 3-0 ballgame, among the things the righthander had done was retire the leadoff hitter in every single inning. Huge.
He’d thrown a remarkable 73 percent of his pitches for strikes, and started off 20 of 29 hitters with strike one.
His control (one walk) was nothing compared to his command.
And on a night when the bullpen, a source of frustration (if not a little confusion) the few days leading up to it, with an afternoon game on deck — and a not-fully-stretched-out Alexi Ogando getting the start — was in need of some amount of a break, Garza gave his teammates a massive helping of I-got-this, needing no relief until Eric Hosmer broke the shutout and ended Garza’s night with a solo homer to start the ninth.
And get this.
If you’re wondering whether Texas just rode Garza hard last night, desperate to save the bullpen and indifferent to any residual long-term effect on Garza’s arm since he’s likely to be in a different uniform this winter, he made the decision a pretty easy one: The 12.1 pitches per inning that the 29-year-old logged last night were fewer than in any other of his 23 starts all season.
And fewer than in any of his 18 starts in 2012.
Or his 31 starts in 2011.
Or his 32 starts in 2010.
Or his 32 starts in 2009.
In fact, Garza, who has started 190 big league games — 195 if you count playoffs — has made only two starts in which he was more economical with his pitches: a 9-1-1-1-1-10 gem on June 26, 2008 against Florida (on the road, meaning he got to face the pitcher a couple times) and a complete-game shutout against Toronto on July 29, 2008, in which he allowed five hits and one walk, fanning five — the same number of hits and walks and strikeouts on his ledger last night.
In those two 2008 games, Garza averaged 12.0 and 11.8 pitches per inning.
As for last night’s 97 pitches in eight-plus innings, if Hosmer’s opposite-field shot happened to find Craig Gentry’s glove instead of the Kansas City bullpen, then we’re looking at 97 in 8.1 frames, and the most economical effort (11.6 pitches per inning) of Matt Garza’s entire big league career. In what was, to date, the most important game of the 2013 Texas Rangers season.
That’s more than what the Rangers thought they were getting.
Texas has had only three starts of at least seven innings this season more economical than last night’s Garza gem: Derek Holland’s 92 pitches in nine innings (10.2 per) when he shut out the Yankees on two hits on June 27, Yu Darvish’s 81 pitches in seven frames (11.6 per) in his 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh on September 9, and Martin Perez’s 82 in seven (11.7 per) against the Cardinals on June 22.
The thing about Ryan Dempster’s Ranger rental from the Cubs last summer was that, even though he followed a clunky debut start with a reasonably good stretch (7-2, 3.56 in nine starts), all I will ever remember about his time in Texas is those final two starts, a brutal 5.2-inning effort against the Angels in a loss that would start the Rangers’ 1-6 slide to finish the regular season and spit up a healthy division lead, and an even worse showing in Oakland in Game 162, failing to hold a 5-1 lead after three, allowing four straight A’s to reach to start the fourth and end his day and any real chance the Rangers had to avoid the Wild Card game that would kill their season.
Those two starts are all I’ll remember about Dempster as a Ranger.
Matt Garza has one more start to make. It will be Thursday in the series opener against the Angels, in Arlington, in Game 159.
If it turns out that he shoves again that night, helping his team avoid falling short of this year’s Wild Card game, then I guarantee you that, like Dempster the year before, all I will remember about Garza’s time in Texas — his regular season time in Texas — will be his final two starts.
Hours from now, Texas will play its final road game of the season.
Four days from now, Garza will make his final start as a Ranger.
Unless there’s more of each that fits in the 162+ category, which is something back when Texas traded for Garza we all thought we’d get, but which, due to a September tailspin, is in serious doubt right now.
Last night Garza relieved a little bit of that doubt, nearly all by himself.