Garza aiming for another stellar big-game outing

Garza aiming for another stellar big-game outing

ARLINGTON -- There isn't one member of the Tampa Bay Rays who wanted to be in the situation they're in -- margin of error down to zero -- when they take the field for Game 3 of this American League Division Series on Saturday. But it isn't hard to find the most comforting aspect of it.

The man who takes the mound for them has been in this spot -- perhaps to an even more pressurized degree.

Flash back to two years ago. After putting the Red Sox in a 3-1 stranglehold in that AL Championship Series, the Rays squandered a 7-0 lead and lost Game 5, then lost Game 6 at home.

So it all came down to Matt Garza in Game 7. All he did was produce what was, at the time, the game of his life. In sending Tampa Bay to the World Series, Garza fired seven dominant innings, allowing just two hits and a run. He was the Most Valuable Player of the series.

Will Garza draw upon that experience leading up to this Game 3 start, in which his team is pinned in a 2-0 hole in a best-of-five series?

"Not really draw upon it, just remember that feeling," Garza said. "Just remember the type of confidence, the type of stuff I took in there. For me, I'm a big emotion guy, so I have a lot, a lot of adrenaline, a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation just flowing through my body right now, so I can't wait. I'm seriously sitting at the edge of my seat ready to go."

That's the type of edge the Rays need at this moment, as they're faced with the challenge of becoming the fifth team in 20 tries to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series.

If Garza was nervous on the eve of his start, it sure didn't show. During clubhouse access before Friday's workout, the righty bopped around the room with red headphones on, a wide and excited smile on his face.

There is no doubt that he wants the ball. And the Rays are sure happy he is taking it.

"Garza is a gamer. There's no doubt about it," said Rays righty James Shields. "He's up for the challenge. He's ready to go and chomping at the bit right now. If you had to pick a guy to be able to shut them down in Texas, that's the guy to do it."

0-2 Division Series deficits
Only four teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a Division Series, all of them from the American League.
Year Team Opponent
1995 Mariners Yankees
1999 Red Sox Indians
2001 Yankees A's
2003 Red Sox A's

Until the Rays' can find some semblance of a groove -- and they've had nothing in the first two games -- Garza's tenacity is going to be just what they need.

"It's just [about] going right after those guys," Garza said. "Make them uncomfortable. Make them think about what they're doing, what they're going to swing at. Right now, they're comfortable up there swinging and hitting the cover off the ball, so I've got to make them uncomfortable, make them do what I want them to do, and it's a hard job, definitely a hard job, but somebody has got to do it. And I feel I'm the right man for the job right now, so why not get the ball on Saturday and go out there and do it?"

If the righty can tame the Rangers for the first few innings, perhaps the Tampa Bay offense will find a way to establish something.

Garza is not only the type of pitcher that can have no-hit stuff on a given day, but he actually threw a no-hitter on July 26 against the Tigers.

"You know, he's a tough competitor," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "He is a guy that will go out there and will do everything he can to get outs; he usually does. It's going to be very tough tomorrow with him. But we have to maintain our composure and what we have to do, more than anything else, is take advantage of an opportunity if the door opens up. That's all you can do. If he's on his game and Colby [Lewis] is on his game, I think it's going to come down to who takes advantage of the opportunity. So it should be a real good ballgame."

Matt Garza of late ...
Garza's pitching line in his two starts against Texas in 2010, followed by his last three starts of the regular season.
Date Opp. IP H ER BB SO Result
June 6 at TEX 5.2 6 4 2 4 W, 9-5
Aug. 17 vs TEX 7 5 0 2 10 W, 10-1
Sept. 20 at NYY 5 8 5 4 1 L, 6-8
Sept. 25 vs SEA 7 8 1 0 5 W, 9-1
Sept. 30 at KC 7 5 3 1 6 L, 2-3
The Rangers have been tone-setters in the first two games, taking the early lead and adding to it, outscoring the Rays, 11-1.

Garza knows he can't let that happen again, or his team is going to be on vacation all too early. He knows exactly what his task is.

"Take the potency out of that lineup," Garza said. "That's really what you can do. You can't pitch around guys, because the guy behind him can hurt you just as much, so you've just got to go at him. [I've] got to go at them with my stuff. I've done it before -- let's see if I can do it again."

In 2010, Garza was 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA. Like many of the Rays, his finish to the season (2-3, 5.88 ERA in September) was not indicative of the team's 96-win season. But in Garza's final tuneup, he held the Royals to three hits over seven innings.

"I just look back to his last start and what I saw," said Rays catcher John Jason. "I caught that game and he was throwing every pitch he had very well. He was throwing quality strikes every pitch that he had. That's as far back as I need to look to really have confidence in him."

Just as he did when a World Series berth depended on it two years ago, Rays manager Joe Maddon again feels very good putting the ball in Garza's hand.

"Matt is Matt and he is always going to be that. He is not going to be intimidated by the moment," Maddon said. "He is going to go out and pitch his game. The one thing I really wanted to do is that, and to not necessarily pitch to a scouting report. I prefer to go out there and pitch to your strengths first, and let the hitters adjust to you. So if we can get Garza to come out tomorrow, stay in the delivery and pitch to strengths first, I think you will see a pretty good game."

And by the end of Saturday, Maddon and the Rays hope they will be able to call it a season-saver.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.