ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Matt Garza insists the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay history and the fifth in the major leagues this season isn’t the most satisfying moment of his career.
That, Garza said Monday night after facing the minimum 27 batters to beat the Detroit Tigers 5-0, came during an MVP performance as the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 2008 AL championship series.
“It’s not even close to that feeling. Shoot, we went to the World Series,” the hard-throwing right-hander said in a hastily set up interview room after the Rays finally wound up on the right side of a memorable pitching performance.
“I’m a big team athlete. Anything that gets us to the next level is what I’ll do. We win — we all win, and I win. Tonight was just about these guys. They played great defense. They hit when they had to. If they weren’t there, I wouldn’t be in here.”
The gem left the San Diego Padres and New York Mets as the only big league teams without a no-hitter and moved the second-place Rays a season-best 22 games over .500, three games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.
Garza set a team record for fewest batters faced in a complete game, allowing only a second-inning walk to Brennan Boesch, who was erased on a double play.
“It’s great. I was a walk away from being perfect. But the best part is that we won. We’re keeping pace, we’re keeping the heat on the Yankees,” said Garza, who was obtained from Minnesota during the offseason before Tampa Bay’s improbable run to the World Series two years ago.
“We taught that guy everything he knows,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said in Kansas City, where Minnesota was playing the Royals.
The 26-year-old Garza’s previous longest bid for a no-hitter was six innings twice, including June 26, 2008 at Florida, when he gave up a homer to Hanley Ramirez leading off the seventh and finished with a 1-hitter.
“We needed one. I don’t care who it came from. We just needed one for our own confidence,” Garza said, mindful that the Rays have been held hitless four times in their 13-season history — three times in the past year. “The guys are just as excited as I am. It’s fun.”
Two of the no-hitters tossed against the Rays since July 2009 were perfect games. They didn’t manage a hit Monday off starter Max Scherzer until ex-Tiger Matt Joyce’s sixth-inning grand slam.
“It was one of those days where everything lined up,” Garza said. “The defense made great plays. I really can’t say enough about them.”
Garza (11-5) was the latest to shine in the Year of the Pitcher. The last time there were at least five no-hitters in a season was 1991, when Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan threw one of seven in the big leagues that year, according to STATS LLC.
It’s only the third time in major league history that a team has been involved in three no-hitters during one season. The 1917 St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox were involved in three — all against each other.
It’s also the first time in 37 years that two no-hitters have occurred in the same AL ballpark in one season. After going 1,006 games without one at Tropicana Field, two have been tossed in the last 11 games at the hitter-friendly dome.
“The guy obviously made history for Tampa, congratulations to him,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said, adding that Garza dominated the Tigers with “high fastball after high fastball.”
Garza, the ALCS MVP when Tampa Bay beat Boston for its first pennant, rebounded from one of his worst outings this season to win his fourth straight decision and tie a career best for victories. He retired pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago for the final out on an easy fly ball to right fielder Ben Zobrist, who made a terrific running catch in the third to rob Danny Worth.
“In the ninth inning, I ran out there and I just told myself, well, we can go about this two ways. I can try not to get contact and get in trouble or I can go at these guys and if it happens, it happens,” Garza said.
The closest Detroit’s injury-depleted lineup came to a hit was Worth’s two-out liner, but Zobrist made a leaping grab above his head as he ran toward the wall.
“I was able to time it just right for my jump,” Zobrist said. “Caught it right in the end of my glove.”
Miguel Cabrera hit a deep fly ball to center in the fifth and a hard liner to left leading off the eighth, but the Tigers couldn’t avoid being no-hit for the first time since Randy Johnson shut them down at Seattle on June 2, 1990.
Garza struck out six in Tampa Bay’s 2,039th game — and on a night when the Rays were held to just three hits themselves.
Joyce’s slam on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the sixth was the first hit off Scherzer (7-8). The next batter, Jason Bartlett, singled for the only other hit until Crawford homered off Enrique Gonzalez in the eighth.
“I wanted to keep challenging. I didn’t want to walk him in that situation,” Scherzer said. “I grooved it, and he hit it.”
Garza, 0-4 with a 5.85 ERA in six career starts against Detroit before Monday, retired Don Kelly on a routine grounder to second base in the ninth and struck out Gerald Laird before getting Santiago to end it on his 120th pitch before a crowd of 17,009.
In addition to the five no-hitters thrown this season was the perfect game Detroit right-hander Armando Galarraga was denied because of a missed call at first base by umpire Jim Joyce.
Oakland’s Dallas Braden tossed a perfect game against Tampa Bay on May 9, and Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay also was perfect at Florida on May 29.
Arizona right-hander Edwin Jackson threw 149 pitches for a no-hitter against the Rays, his former team, at Tropicana Field on June 26. Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez pitched the first no-hitter in Rockies history at Atlanta on April 17.
In his previous start, Garza allowed seven runs and 10 hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Orioles. The Tigers lineup he faced was without Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge because of injuries.
“They’re missing some really important people, there’s no doubt about that,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “But they’re all major league players and it’s a no-hitter. They’re not going to make any excuses, I know that.”