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Matt Garza must deliver one more day for Tampa Bay Rays


Today, he has to give his team tomorrow.

Just that.

Today, he has to extend a season. Matt Garza has to diffuse the explosives in the bats of the Texas Rangers so effectively that they look as tiny as those of his teammates. He has to stand up to the possibilities of elimination, to the pressure of the afternoon and to the bandbox dimensions of the Rangers Ballpark.

And what's the big deal?

If the best way to face the odds is by dancing around them, the Rays appear to be in good shape. There he was Friday, doing the electric boogaloo across the Rays' clubhouse, bopping and hopping and moving to music that no one else could hear.

There were a pair of bright red headphones on Garza's head, and a goofy grin on his face, as he stepped toward his locker like a baserunner trying to avoid a tag. He kept singing the same profane line from the song.

He plopped down, still dancing while seated. A moment later, he had his iPod in his left hand, his iPad on his lap and a yellow sports drink in his right. He leaned his chair back until it was on the back two legs, and it seemed as out of kilter as the Rays' postseason has become.

For a team down to the last strike of its season, this is the image of the final hope. Garza, the loose, loopy right-hander on the team, is standing between the Rays and elimination.

And, you know, he just may be goofy enough to pull this off.

He is a different cut of cloth, Garza. He can be volcanic, and he can be an 11-year-old in the backyard. He can be an unbroken horse, and he can be a runaway train. He can be a character out of his beloved cartoons, or today, he can be the hero who swoops in to rescue his friends.

Turns out, that's probably the best attitude to have in a situation such as today's.

"He's definitely a little bit nuts," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "He's definitely out of the ordinary. It's hard to describe, but he's a little detached from reality, which can help him at times or hurt him at times.

"I think he has a good personality for a must-win game. (The pressure) doesn't seem to affect him."

Loose or not, the Rays are asking a lot from Garza today. The Rangers hit a lot more, homer a lot more and win a lot more at home. Garza has to shut that down. The Rays haven't scored much, and whatever they manage today, Garza has to make sure it's enough. After a funk that has lasted several days, Garza has to guarantee one day more.

Watch closely. The guy is not exactly gasping for air because of the situation.

"We know what we have to do, and there is no reason to stress over it," Garza said. "Why think about it? I feel I'm the right man for the job right now, so why not go out there and do it?

"I'm a big emotion guy, so I have a lot of adrenalin flowing through my body right now. I can't wait. I'm seriously sitting at the edge of my seat ready to go."

In other words, as teammate David Price says, if the Rangers win today, it won't have a thing to do with Garza's nerves. He's relaxed enough.

Ah, but is he good enough?

For Garza, the 2010 season was an uneven one. He threw the only no-hitter in Rays history, but twice he threw what he called the worst games of his life. He won 15 games, more than any other pitcher except Price has won in a season for the Rays, but he only won one of his last four decisions. He struck out 10 the last time he faced the Rangers, but then he went six straight games in which he struck out four or less.

So how good will Garza be?

"If Matty executes his pitches, he can be one of the most dominant pitchers in the league," fellow pitcher James Shields said.

Maybe, just maybe, he can be the same Garza who shut down the Red Sox in the seventh game of the American League Championship Series in 2008.

You remember that game, don't you? Then, as now, the Rays had lost two straight, and all the momentum had vanished, and the Rays were facing a game where a loss would have sent them home for the offseason. Boston had Jon Lester on the mound, and the World Series seemed a long way off.

"Even though we were home, we were the underdog," Garza said. "We were the club everyone counted out."

That night, Garza allowed only two hits, and the Rays won 3-1. Given the pressure, you could argue it was a better pitched game than his no-hitter.

"That's all you need to know about Matt," said Price, who can be a little silly himself. "It was the biggest game we've ever played in, and he approached it perfectly."

Perhaps the memory of that game will provide faith the season can last another day. Perhaps it isn't necessary.

"It's not like I have to look into the past to find a glimmer of hope," Hickey said. "I'm confident and comfortable he will pitch well. We have as good a chance to win this game as any game all season long."

One game. One final breath. One chance to restore sanity to a season.

For Garza, one last chance to dance.

Matt Garza must deliver one more day for Tampa Bay Rays 10/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 8, 2010 11:02pm]
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