Time for Garza to realize potential

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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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Red Sox even ALCS 1-1, defeat Astros 7-5 in Game 2

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Game 2 of the ALCS, held Sunday night in Boston, was a play in three parts. For the first three innings, it was a back-and-forth affair between the offenses of the Red Sox and Astros. The middle three innings involved both team’s pitching staffs calming things down. The final third of the game saw the Red Sox add insurance. Ultimately, the Red Sox went on to win 7-4 to even the ALCS at one game apiece.

The Red Sox opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning, with Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers hitting RBI singles off of a shaky Gerrit Cole. The Astros returned the salvo in the top of the second against David Price as George Springer fisted a double that just barely stayed fair down the right field line to plate two runs to tie the game. Marwin González broke the 2-2 tie in the top of the third, turning on an inside cut fastball for a two-run homer over the Green Monster. In the bottom half of the third, the Red Sox put together a rally, loading the bases with one out. After Ian Kinsler struck out, Jackie Bradley, Jr. drilled an opposite-field double off of the Monster with the carom taking left fielder Marwin González back towards the infield, allowing all three runs to score, putting the Red Sox back on top at 5-4.

Price, whose postseason woes are well-publicized, pitched better than his line indicated. He was on the hook for four runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts. His counterpart, Cole, went six frames, on the hook for five runs (four earned) on six hits and a pair of walks with five strikeouts.

Once Price was out of the game, Matt Barnes got four outs with nary a scrape. Ryan Brasier worked around a two-out walk in the seventh for a scoreless frame. In the bottom half of the seventh, facing Lance McCullers, Jr., Mookie Betts led off with a walk. As Benintendi struck out, Betts moved to second base on a wild pitch. During J.D. Martinez‘s at-bat, Martín Maldonado allowed a passed ball, which gave Betts the opportunity to move to third base. Martinez struck out, but Maldonado was unable to handle a pitch from reliever Josh James, so Betts ran home to score a crucial insurance run.

Rick Porcello took over in the eighth, setting down Tony Kemp, González, and Carlos Correa in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out the latter two. In the bottom half of the eighth, Betts added yet another insurance run with an RBI double to right-center.

Kimbrel has had a rough postseason thus far, giving up a run in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees followed by two more in Game 4. Those struggles continued on Sunday. He got Evan Gattis to pop up, then struck out Josh Reddick. So far, so good. Unfortunately for Kimbrel, Springer poked a double to left field, then advanced to third base on a wild pitch while José Altuve batted. Altuve then ripped a single off of the Monster to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Alex Bregman. Mercifully, for the Red Sox and their fans, Kimbrel got Bregman to fly out to Benintendi just in front of the Monster in deep left field.

David Price’s team won a postseason game he started for the first time. This was his 10th postseason start and he had been 0-8 with one no-decision.

With the ALCS tied up at one game each, the Red Sox and Astros will take Monday off to travel to Houston. Game 3 is slated for a 5:09 PM ET start on Tuesday. The Red Sox haven’t yet named a starter but the Astros will go with Dallas Keuchel.