It doesn't take a great pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Bud Smith threw one. So did Jose Jimenez, Tommy Greene, Juan Nieves, Joe Cowley, Mike Warren and Charlie Lea, and that's just a sampling of no-hit authors since 1980 that the average baseball fan in 2010 would likely have to look up. Heck, Dallas Braden was perfect for one afternoon earlier this year. On its own, a no-hitter, while an impressive accomplishment, doesn't really tell you much about a pitcher. They're not predictive, they don't favor one type of pitcher, and the vast majority of pitchers who throw a no-hitter never do it again.
Sometimes, however, a no-hitter can serve as a reminder, a signal flare from a talented young pitcher with electric stuff that he might still put it all together and blossom into the pitcher he was once expected to be. Such is the case for Matt Garza, who pitched the first no-hitter in Rays history Monday night, limiting the Tigers to a one-out walk in the second inning, as Tampa Bay won 5-0. (RECAP | BOX SCORE)
There are several types of no-hitters. Setting aside the perfect games and multi-pitcher no-nos, there are the no-hitters in which the authoring pitcher dominates the opposition for nine innings, carving up the opposing lineup, and those in which the man on the mound seems as lucky as he is good and seems to almost pick and choose his spots throughout the game, as Dwight Gooden claimed he did in his six-walk no-no for the Yankees in 1996. A.J. Burnett walked a record nine men in his May 2001 no-hitter. The last no-hitter prior to Garza's, which coincidentally also took place at Tropicana Field, was one of the latter. In that game, Edwin Jackson walked eight men and threw 149 pitches while no-hitting Garza's Rays.
Garza's no-hitter falls into the former category. He issued a full-count walk to Brennan Boesch in the top of the second, then got Ryan Rayburn to hit into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Boesch was the only baserunner the Tigers managed all night, as Garza faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out six and retiring the last 22 men he faced.
SHEEHAN:Fastball, weak lineup aided Garza
True, he faced a Tigers lineup devastated by injury that included such legends as Will Rhymes, Don Kelly, Gerald Laird, and Danny Worth, but Garza's performance was in no way out of character. A first-round pick by the Twins out of Fresno State in the 2005 amateur draft, Garza tore through the Twins' minor league system in his first full professional season. In 2006, he went 14-4 with a 1.99 ERA, 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 4.81 K/BB ratio in 23 starts spread between High-A Fort Myers, Double-A New Britain, and Triple-A Rochester. That performance led to his major league debut on Aug. 11 of that year, the first of nine starts Garza would make for the Twins down the stretch.
After struggling in his debut, Garza acquitted himself well for a 22-year-old rookie who had been an undergrad just a year before and had already thrown 135 2/3 minor league innings before tossing 50 more in the majors. Still, the Twins left him in Triple-A when they broke camp in 2007, opting instead for a rotation that included Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson (never mind Boof Bonser and Carlos Silva). Ponson and Ortiz were predictably awful, but it still took the Twins until July to promote Garza despite his solid showing in Triple-A (3.62 ERA, 9.3 K/9, 3.06 K/BB). That sowed seeds of discontent between the pitcher and his team and set the stage for a blockbuster trade that November, which sent Garza, starting shortstop Jason Bartlett, and minor league reliever Eduardo Morlan to the Devil Rays for a package built around outfielder Delmon Young, a 21-year-old outfielder who had been the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft and was considered the top hitting prospect in baseball, despite underwhelming results in his first full season with Tampa Bay that year.
That trade proved to be instrumental in the breakthrough of the Tampa Bay franchise. Rechristened the Rays, Tampa Bay relied heavily on Bartlett's defense and Garza's impressive stuff to go from worst to first in the AL East in 2008, winning a shocking 97 games, squeezing the Yankees out of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and ultimately capturing the American League pennant by defeating the Red Sox in a hotly contested, seven-game American League Championship Series. The Most Valuable Player in that series was Garza, who held the powerful Boston lineup to two runs across 13 innings in a pair of wins, including the Game 7 victory, striking out nine Sox while allowing just two hits in seven innings.
Though Garza remains an inconsistent and temperamental starter, having failed to blossom in the wake of his success in 2008, at his frequent best, he is every bit as good as he appeared in his Monday night no-hitter. On April 30 of last year, he held the Red Sox scoreless on one hit over 7 2/3 innings while striking out 10. On June 24, he held the Phillies to one run on three hits over eight innings while striking out seven. Those were two of the top four offenses in the game last year. After holding the Sox to three hits in seven innings on Aug. 4, he held the Blue Jays scoreless on three hits over 7 1/3 innings on Sept. 19 while striking out 10. If a pitcher can have "no-hit stuff," Garza has it. His mid-90s fastball, and sharp curve and slider are legitimate out-pitches, and he's still just 26.
Still, just because Garza was able to put it all together on one night (with an assist from Ben Zobrist, who made a nice leaping catch in deep right field on a drive by Worth for the final out of the 3rd inning) doesn't mean he's any more or less likely to take the next step to stardom. As talented as he is, Garza remains a mid-rotation starter in the admittedly loaded Rays rotation. If he does make the leap as he enters his proper peak, however, don't say he didn't warn you. How many other mid-rotation starters can you name that had a LCS MVP and no-hitter to their name before their 27th birthday?
As for the rash of no-hit ballgames we've seen this season (Garza's was the fifth official no-hit game after no-nos by Ubaldo Jimenez and Jackson and perfect games by Braden and Roy Halladay, and the sixth if you want to include the perfect game Armando Galarraga lost on a blown call on the 27th out), these things happen. There were seven no-hitters in both 1990 and 1991, neither of which was a notably favorable season for pitching otherwise, while 1968, which was the greatest season for pitchers since the end of the deadball era, had "just" five.
As I pointed out in the wake of Jackson's no-hitter, these events are infrequent enough to qualify as purely random. Perhaps we'll see three more no-hitters over the final two months of the 2010 season, breaking the modern record set in '90 and '91 and tying the all-time record of eight set in 1884. Perhaps Garza's will be the last and 2010 will be remembered only for being the first season since 1880 to include two perfect games, with the other three no-nos being resigned to the dustbin of history. Either way, it won't tell us much about the season as a whole, or even all that much about the pitchers who threw them (we already knew Halladay was good, and Jimenez's first half would have been remarkable even without the no-no). Rather than try to find some greater meaning, we should enjoy these moments for what they are: Remarkable single-game performances that will be remembered as long as the major leagues exist. Isn't that enough?
PHOTO GALLERY:Most recent no-hitters by team