Matt Garza hasn’t been the pitcher the Texas Rangers thought they were getting since winning his first two starts in July.
There had been flashes, even victories, along the way, but something had been missing.
His mechanics weren’t that far off, nor was the command of his pitches.
Garza, it turns out, had Nuke LaLoosh syndrome. He was thinking too much, and it was hurting the team.
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So, Garza cleared his mind and went back to what has allowed him to flourish in big-game situations and become the pitcher the Rangers coveted for the past three seasons before finally acquiring him.
That Garza showed up Saturday night for a team playing with no margin for error.
Garza took a shutout into the ninth inning, and Elvis Andrus drove in a run and scored another as the Rangers beat Kansas City 3-1 at a sold-out Kauffman Stadium and kept pace in the American League wild-card standings.
“It felt good just to get back to being me,” Garza said. “I’ve been trying to do too many things, and I’ve just got to keep it simple. That’s who I am. I just went out there with a game plan of attack and trust my stuff and let’s go.
“It’s a good win. It keeps us right there in the hunt. It looks like it’s going to be a brawl right down to the end.”
Tampa Bay leads the wild-card race by a half-game. Cleveland is another half-game ahead of the Rangers, whose chances at winning the AL West are all but over.
They have to win each of their remaining eight games, and Oakland has to lose all seven it has remaining. The A’s can clinch as early as Sunday.
The Rangers have won three of the past five games, yet haven’t pieced together a winning streak this month. But they are sensing that they have a good run left in them.
“Play and pitch the way we did tonight, I think we’re going to have a chance,” Andrus said. “We have to go out there with that mentality and go out there and take it. We have the future in our hands right now.”
Garza commanded his fastball as well as he has since joining the Rangers to keep Royals hitters at bay. The effort was his best since his Rangers debut July 24, when he allowed one unearned run in 71/3 innings, and he won for the first time since beating Houston on Aug. 19.
Garza, who allowed just five hits and struck out five, started the ninth inning at only 93 pitches, but Eric Hosmer connected for an opposite-field homer to spoil the shutout bid. Joe Nathan entered and retired the next three hitters to register his 40th save of the season.
“What came out of him tonight was pride,” manager Ron Washington said. “The guy knew he was a better pitcher than what he’s been showing.”
Garza had early run support to help him settle into a comfort zone. Ian Kinsler opened the game with a leadoff triple and scored as the next batter, Andrus, grounded to shortstop.
The Rangers added two more in the third after Andrus and Alex Rios took back-to-back one-out walks. Adrian Beltre was next, and his grounder up the middle got past right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and sneaked through second baseman Emilio Bonafacio after hitting the base.
Andrus scored, and Rios went to third.
“It’s been a while since we’ve had something like that happen,” Washington said.
A.J. Pierzynski plated Rios with a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead, as the Rangers scored twice without a base hit.
“We did what you have to do,” Washington said.
Garza, meanwhile, was in complete command. He allowed a one-out single in the first before retiring the next 10. He walked Billy Butler with two outs in the fourth and issued a two-out triple to Jarrod Dyson in the fifth.
That triple, which could have been scored an error on Mitch Moreland, gave the Royals their lone runner to get past first against Garza until Alcides Escobar doubled with one out in the eighth.
Garza, though, got Alex Gordon on a lineout and caught Bonafacio looking with three straight fastballs.
“Matt is a simple guy,” Pierzynski said. “He wants the basics. I think when you give him too much, he can overthink some stuff. He just tried to keep it simple and be as aggressive as he can. He executed to perfection.”
This was the Garza the Rangers thought they acquired to lift them into the playoffs. He’ll get one more regular-season start and is hoping that he still hasn’t given his best performance of the year.
“I hope I make it in October,” Garza said.