BOSTON — Matt Garza had a bit of a chip on his shoulder heading into Monday's start.
There was the frustration from his last outing in Chicago, where he felt like he had "no-hit stuff" but didn't execute in a big playoff game, a 5-3 loss.
And then, with the Rays right-hander set to face the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALCS, all the pregame talk was on Sox left-hander Jon Lester, who "had center stage, and I was just the guy in the backdrop."
"I was," Garza said, "the forgotten guy."
But on Monday, it was Garza who delivered an unforgettable performance, putting the Rays in control of the series with his first career postseason win. While Lester got rocked by the Rays, Garza gutted through some early jams and gave up just one run in six innings.
Said manager Joe Maddon: "Garza is the main reason we won that game."
Garza trusted his stuff — specifically his fastball, which he used most of the night (hitting 97 mph) — and fearlessly attacked hitters.
"With (David) Ortiz saying that we looked scared, we looked intimidated, I wanted to come out and set the tone and say, 'You know what, we're not scared,' " Garza said. " 'We're here to play. We're going to stick around for a while, boys.' "
Garza did just that in a few key moments. There was the first inning, when Dustin Pedroia ripped a one-out double off the Green Monster. But Garza got Ortiz to strike out looking at a fastball then got Kevin Youkilis to ground out. In the second, with runners on second and third and one out, Garza got another big strikeout, getting Jason Varitek looking (a fastball), before Alex Cora had an inning-ending flyout.
"I just told myself, 'I'm not going to give in here. I'm going to keep battling, keep fighting my way out of this' " Garza said. "Every inning, it was, 'Keep attacking, keep attacking, keep attacking. Make those guys beat my fastball.' "
The Red Sox couldn't, even when they likely knew it was coming. "He was pumping some gas right there," catcher Dioner Navarro said. Maddon said Garza "can throw 100 percent fastballs and win in this league."
But Garza said that just winning this game — on the big stage (even if it wasn't center stage) — meant so much to him.
"It was huge for me," Garza said. "Not confidence-wise; just to let myself know that I can pitch here. That I'm able to step up and say, 'I can perform here.' Last outing, I didn't like the taste in my mouth. I walked off saying, 'This isn't me, I don't like being like this.' Tonight I was trying to say to myself, 'I can pitch here.' "
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.