Time for Garza to realize potential


Matt Garza – to paraphrase Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis – has a gift. When he was a baby, the gods reached down and turned his right arm into a thunderbolt.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay right-hander unleashed that gift on the Detroit Tigers, dazzling them with an array of high, hard fastballs and tight-spinning breaking balls on the way to the first no-hitter in Rays history, and the fifth in Major League Baseball this season.

It was an impressive outing. Twenty-seven men came to the plate, and Garza allowed only one of them to reach base — Brennan Boesch, on a second-inning walk — and he was immediately erased on a Ryan Raburn double-play grounder.

There was a leaping catch by Ben Zobrist to rob Danny Worth in the sixth inning, and there was a frightening line drive by Miguel Cabrera hit directly to Carl Crawford in the eighth. And yes, this was a depleted Tigers lineup playing without the services of Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge and Carlos Guillen. But it was still a dominant performance.

As Rays manager Joe Maddon told the AP, “They’re all major league players and it’s a no-hitter. They’re not going to make any excuses, I know that.”

The question now, though, is how will Garza follow up the most noteworthy outing of his career? Will this signal the rise of a star, or will Garza settle back into the sometimes-great, sometimes-mediocre rhythm that has so far marked his young career?

Garza will never be Bud Smith, the Cardinals left-hander who emerged from nowhere to throw a no-hitter as a rookie in 2001, only to fade back into obscurity shortly thereafter. In his fifth season in the majors and with a 2008 ALCS MVP award under his belt, Garza has already lapped Smith.

But can he build on this and finally move into the upper echelon of elite right-handers? Can he become Roy Halladay, or at least Justin Verlander? Garza has shown signs of potential greatness in the past. In 2008, he baffled the Florida Marlins with a one-hitter. He had arrived, it seemed, and went on to go 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA in just his first full season in the majors.

But his development has not come as hoped by Rays fans. His temper has gotten the better of him at times, and his ERA, WHIP and home run rate have risen in each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile, it has been David Price – not Garza – who has emerged as the ace of a young Tampa staff.

Garza is now 26, and entering what should be his prime. He is no-longer the wild-eyed rookie, but a young veteran with World Series experience. He’s sitting on a career record just south of .500 and an ERA just north of 4.00. The time is now for both to improve.

Garza told the St. Petersburg Times that he paced the hallway connecting dugout to clubhouse between each inning on Monday, clutching a towel in his hand and practicing his pitching motion.

“I had to keep reminding myself that this is how it’s supposed to feel,” Garza said. “That’s all I said, over and over. This is how it’s supposed to feel.”

This is how it’s supposed to feel. If Garza can finally figure that out, the Rays will be very happy, indeed.

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The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.