ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Matt Garza’s cellphone rang so much that he finally turned it off. When he switched it on again Tuesday, it kept buzzing.
“I’m a little tired,” the hard-throwing Tampa Bay right-hander said a little more than 18 hours after pitching the first no-hitter in Rays history and fifth in the major leagues this year. “But I can deal with it.”
Commissioner Bud Selig sent a congratulatory letter. A ball and Garza’s cap from Monday night’s 5-0 victory were earmarked for delivery to the baseball Hall of Fame after the season. The pitcher also caught up with his wife and children, who were in Northern California for a camping trip but watched the game on television.
Eight-year-old son Matthew was critical of his father after Garza yielded seven runs in just 1 1-3 innings of a loss to the Florida Marlins last month, going as far as to tell the pitcher: “I could do that.”
Garza has won four straight decisions, and also picked up his first career save, since that poor outing.
But when dad asked the oldest of his three children what he thought of his latest performance, the youngster still didn’t cut Garza any slack.
“He said, ’You’re still not an all-star,”’ the 2008 AL championship series MVP said with a big grin spreading across his face. “He’s a chip off the old block. He’s a competitor. He keeps you grounded. He said: ’You’re not the best yet.”’
But the Rays believe Garza, obtained from Minnesota the winter before Tampa Bay’s improbable run to the World Series, has the talent to become one of the top pitchers in baseball.
He faced the minimum 27 batters against the Tigers, allowing only a second-inning walk to Brennan Boesch, who was erased on a double play.
“I was one pitch away from being perfect,” Garza said. “But if I don’t walk that guy, then things might have changed. … Things happen for a reason. I’m happy it turned out the way it did.”
Garza, who has worked with a sports psychologist to harness his emotions on the mound, threw 120 pitches. He relied almost exclusively on his fastball to tame an injury-riddled Tigers lineup missing Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge and Magglio Ordonez.
In addition to joining Terry Mulholland (1990) and Mark Buehrle (2007) as the only pitchers in the past 45 years to face the minimum 27 batters in a no-hitter that wasn’t a perfect game, Garza (11-5) tied a career high with his 11th victory.
The Rays, who have been no-hit twice this season and three times since last July, finally wound up on the right side of a memorable pitching performance.
Two of the no-hitters thrown against them in the past 12 months were perfect games, and they didn’t have a hit off Detroit starter Max Scherzer until ex-Tiger Matt Joyce’s sixth-inning grand slam gave Garza all the run support he needed.
“Of course I’m happy for us, but I’m happy for him,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “This is the kind of game that could catapult somebody like him who has this kind of ability. He has struggled at different moments this year. Hopefully this is one of those things that can really mentally get you over the hump.”
Garza sure hopes so.
“This year I’ve just been so rocky, just trying to find myself. Something good had to happen soon,” the right-hander said. “I’m trying to look for just a hint of consistency, and this should get the ball rolling in the right direction. I didn’t feel great. My mechanics felt off, but I was able to locate my fastball.”
The Rays are the first team in the majors to be involved in three no-hitters in the same season, joining the 1917 St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox.
Garza said his accomplishment didn’t truly sink in until he arrived home to find some ballons tied to his mailbox, then sat down to relax and take in some late-night television — though he didn’t watch a replay of the game or any sports highlights.
“That was a team effort. You can’t win a game with one guy,” Garza said.
“Sometimes you have your hero, but there’s always that supporting cast. Last night I was just part of that supporting cast,” Garza said. “Joyce was the hero.”