Matt Garza, Rangers’ newest hired gun, eyes October

Posted Sunday, Jul. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
More information Garza in the postseason Right-hander Matt Garza hasn’t pitched in the postseason since 2010, but his 2008 performance in the playoffs helped him establish a reputation as a big-game pitcher for Tampa Bay: 2008 ALDS vs. CWS
2008 ALCS vs. BOS
2008 World Series vs. PHI
2010 ALDS vs. TEX

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The first time Metroplex media eyes spotted Matt Garza in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse was Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before his debut after being acquired only two days earlier.

He had a hoodie covering his head, and he seemed to be having trouble sitting in one place for more than, oh, 30 seconds.

Maybe the media caught him at a poor time, and, admittedly, it was a small sample size before being shuffled out to the daily briefing with manager Ron Washington.

But energy appeared to be building toward his start against the New York Yankees, and Garza didn’t lack any throughout 71/3 innings en route to his maiden victory at Rangers Ballpark.

No one was surprised, not the Rangers players who had faced Garza when he was with Tampa Bay or the three who had played with him in Minnesota and Chicago. The fist pumps, the shouts, the flexing, the R-rated words are par for the course when Garza is on the mound.

“The intensity is what stands out, more than anyone else I’ve played with,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “He’s definitely in his own world when he’s on the mound.”

Garza will be back there Monday night, with his new team in second place in the American League West and five games behind Oakland after a floundering start to the second half and the stretch run.

The Rangers need a repeat performance against Jered Weaver and the third-place Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, from an intense pitcher who wasn’t shipped into a pennant race to lose.

“We are in a playoff hunt, aren’t we?” Garza said after last week. “We’re trying to make it into October. Every game’s a big game. I don’t care who’s on the other side. Every game counts.

“I don’t like to lose. I don’t like to be a part of losing. This is one of the weirdest games. A pitcher fails three times, and it’s not cool. A hitter succeeds three times, and he’s a Hall of Famer. Why not be in this game and try to beat the odds?”

Recent odds suggest that Garza won’t fare well as a Rangers acquisition before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Cliff Lee went only 4-6 in 15 starts in 2010, though he won his first three starts in the postseason.

Lee and Garza are intense, and both throw strikes with a power arsenal and work quickly. But Lee was steely on the mound. Garza admits to being “a little showy.”

“Cliff’s not too emotional,” said Kinsler, who homered against Garza in the 2010 Game 3.

Ryan Dempster was 7-3 last season, but with an ugly 5.03 ERA and an inability to hold a 5-1 lead against Oakland in the division-deciding season finale.

“Dempster is intense, but in a quieter way,” said catcher Geovany Soto, a former Cubs teammate of Garza and Dempster.

Garza said that he has made a career of being a hired gun. He was called up by Minnesota in 2006 for the stretch run, and then was dealt to Tampa Bay before the Rays stunned everyone by going to the World Series.

He was the MVP of the AL Championship Series, beating Boston twice, and he received a no-decision as the Rays beat the Rangers in Game 3 of the 2010 AL Division Series.

Even the Cubs had visions of Garza carrying them to the postseason when they acquired him before the 2011 season, outbidding the Rangers in a trade with Tampa Bay.

“That’s been my mentality every since I came up,” Garza said. “Being a hired gun? I’m a pitcher. I’m going to go out and do my job every night and go as long as I can and as deep as I can and give my team a chance to win.

“I couldn’t be more happy to be in a place where I’m wanted and have been wanted. I’ve been traded three times now. I’m going to go out and do my job and make these guys proud.”

He might make outsiders wince, though, and opponents steam with the way he releases his emotion during games. Soto compared Garza’s intensity level to Carlos Zambrano, which isn’t a good thing.

Insert images of a water cooler getting pounded by a bat.

Garza, 29, hasn’t gone off the deep end as Zambrano often did. The intensity that Garza puts on display during his starts is a good thing.

“You can be the most intense guy in the world, but that doesn’t mean you have to do negative stuff,” Soto said. “It’s good to see someone play with passion. This is your career. This is your life. You want to do good.”

Garza did that Wednesday, allowing only an unearned run while pitching into the eighth inning. It was plain to see that he didn’t want to leave when Washington came to get the ball.

“There was some adult language,” Kinsler said. “He covered his mouth for a reason.”

Garza is also excited to be with the Rangers, for this season and perhaps longer, for a reason. He wants to win. Not just Monday or again in five days, but in the postseason.

It should be an intense ride.

“My main goal right now is to help this team get into October and let everything else fall into place,” he said.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson

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