MIAMI — Matt Garza's stuff was spectacular Thursday, his pitches breaking and diving all kinds of ways, his control and command precise in his dazzling complete-game one-hitter, a 6-1, series sweeping victory over the Marlins.
But what Garza did — allowing only a seventh-inning homer to Hanley Ramirez — was rooted as much in his efforts on the mound as numerous conversations in the last 2½ weeks designed to help him stay calm and in better control of his emotions.
"What you saw there, it's not like there's been this huge transformation in how he delivers the ball, how he throws the ball or pitch selection," manager Joe Maddon said. "What you're seeing is, here's a guy who's much more under control, and now you're seeing his true abilities."
Maddon's proof was how, despite the steamy South Florida midday heat and humidity, Garza "didn't even appear to be sweating."
Garza's example was more specific, how he reacted after losing the no-hitter on the first pitch of the seventh — retiring the next three, then the last six to complete the 108-pitch gem that lifted the Rays to within one-half game of first place.
"I've made huge strides mentally," he said. "I think I would have lost it after giving up that (homer) to Hanley. I would have got p----- off, threw a couple angry pitches, a couple more knocks might have came, and we'd be talking a different story here. I might have been out in the bottom of the seventh. But I was able to regroup."
The change is a result of the heated mound and dugout confrontations with catcher Dioner Navarro during the June 8 game in Texas. The Rays (47-31) asked, and Garza made a serious effort to better control his emotions and his focus, including conversations with Maddon and noted sports psychologist Ken Ravizza.
Garza, 24, was reluctant to talk much about his work with Ravizza, a longtime Maddon friend and associate, saying, "He's just a guy I talk to. He's kind of helping me out and gave me little trigger points and stuff to look for.'' But Garza's overall improvement has been obvious in three starts since, with a 2-1 record and 2.05 ERA.
"If I don't get upset I'm able to control my body more," said Garza (6-4, 3.76). "If I get upset I've got too many things running through my head, and I won't be able to feel what's off and what's on. And I'm able to make one-pitch adjustments."
He looked fine Thursday (with Shawn Riggans behind the plate) facing only 28 batters — one over the minimum — in his first complete game and the third one-hit complete game in Rays history. He retired the first 10 before a walk (followed by a double play), and aside from Ramirez's homer, the hardest hit ball was a sixth-inning liner to left by pitcher, and ex-Ray, Doug Waechter.
"The scary thing is this guy's capable of doing that time and time again," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "This isn't like some game he pitched way above and beyond what he's capable of doing. This is something, you hear people throw out (Braves great) John Smoltz and compare him to that, and you watch him do something like that, and it's not all that farfetched."
"There's only one word to sum it up," Marlins outfielder Cody Ross said, "he was filthy."
"This kid today, that's about as good as it gets," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We had some pretty good hitters coming back shaking their heads."
Said Maddon: "It's hard to say that he can be better than what we saw today."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org