Greenies be damned. We The Rays finally did it.
There are days when I want to look into sports in a very deep manner. There are days when I really want to examine why things happen on the field. There are days when I am pessimistic.
Today is definitely not one of those days.
Over a period of roughly 11 months, I saw my favorite baseball team finish on the dark side of no-hit performances three times. Two of those were of the perfect game variety, while one of them was about as un-perfect of a no-hitter as one can get. The latter is the eight-walk, 149-pitch adventure tossed by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson in June.
Yes, the same Edwin Jackson that once played for the Devil Rays and then the Rays. The same Edwin Jackson that I once watched give up five runs and get pulled from a game against the Padres without registering a single out.
For some reason, I remember that night clearly. I was sitting in the section 119 loge box at Tropicana Field, and I began cheering for Jake Peavy when he took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. Emotionally numb from supporting a team that was a perennial bottom-feeder, I was desperate for any glamour that the game could offer.
Per usual, the Devil Rays disappointed me that night when Carl Crawford hit a single to ruin the moment.
But it was nights like that that make me appreciate nights like Monday even more. On Monday, Matt Garza threw a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers. He became the sixth fifth player this season to accomplish the feat and the first pitcher in the 2,039 game history of the Rays to do so. There have been four thrown against the Rays in that same time span.
The night was yet another reminder of just how much things have changed over the past three years.
For Garza, it was a reminder of how much things can change on a start-to-start basis. Just six days before his no-hitter against the Tigers, Garza gave up seven earned runs and four homers to the Baltimore Orioles. On June 12, he surrendered seven runs to the Marlins after facing 14 batters in just 1 and 1/3 innings. An early season dark horse Cy Young candidate, he now simply utters the words “roller coaster” when asked how his season is going.
But the term “up-and-down” doesn’t just describe Garza’s season on the mound. It accurately portrays his career and his life in general.
In a pitching rotation full of composed, laid-back characters, Garza is the unpredictable loose cannon. He’s been named MVP of an ALCS. He’s fought his catcher.
Even during the no-hitter, the crowning moment of his career, he was uncertain and frustrated that he did not have his mechanics down. Of the 120 pitches that he threw, 101 of them were fastballs due to the fact that he did not feel comfortable enough to change things up.
He went through his pitching motions repeatedly with a balled-up towel in between innings in the batting cages below the first-base seats. He asked pitching coach Jim Hickey for nervous advice. Advice that Hickey started refusing to offer after the sixth inning.
When the Rays brought Garza in at the beginning of 2008, they were met with a legitimately crazy man. Pitchers are usually weird, but Garza surpassed them all. He paced the mound, he yelled at himself and could become rattled at the simple site of a routine hit. Manager Joe Maddon arranged a relationship between Garza and sports psychologist Ken Ravizza. The counseling helped Garza, but he still remains one of the quirkiest and most high-strung pitchers in baseball.
The Garza roller coaster continues off the field. He took a pregnant girlfriend to his senior prom, and welcomed his first child into the world just days after graduation. But graduation meant the demands of being a student-athlete in college, and the new father spent the majority of his time at Fresno State contemplating whether or not he even wanted to play baseball.
While Rays’ poster boys James Shields and Evan Longoria tend to charities that deal with orphans and cancer, Garza has worked for teenage pregnancy advocate groups alongside Hayden Panettiere and Bristol Palin.
Garza was only a second inning walk away from being statistically perfect on Monday night. But the night seemed too perfect anyways.
For awhile – 5 and 2/3 innings to be exact – the game was a no-hit standoff. Tigers starter Max Scherzer walked plenty but didn’t give up a hit until Tampa native Matt Joyce stepped to the plate. Joyce hit a go-ahead grand slam that just barely stayed fair, took his curtain call and then allowed Garza to proceed with franchise history.
To make it even more special, Joyce’s grand slam came against his former team. The team that traded him in 2008 for Edwin Jackson. The same team that then traded Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks for, you guessed it, Max Scherzer.
Somehow, this all aligned to give Garza one of the greatest individual feats in team history (Wade Boggs did reach 3,000 hits as a D-Ray).
Never one to be short on words or emotion, Garza seemed to be in an apparent state of shock after the game. He remained far more composed than his teammates and kept repeating the same worn-out line about how staying up with the Yankees and making it to October was far more important than any of this.
Previous Rays who came closest to this feat include Dewon Brazelton, Tony Saunders and Jim Parque.
Yeah, times have changed.