Matt Garza dominates in Rangers debut

ARLINGTON, Texas -- John Burkett. Cliff Lee.

You can throw Todd Stottlemyre in there if you want.

All pitchers that the Texas Rangers have acquired in seasons past, either before, at or after the trade deadline, all brought to Texas to be game-changers.

Will Matt Garza be the next one?

If his debut for the Rangers is any indication -- a 3-1 victory over the powerless New York Yankees on Wednesday night -- general manager Jon Daniels has made a trade that will rival the one he made for Lee in 2010 and those by Doug Melvin for Burkett and Stottlemyre in the 1990s.

The Rangers won division titles in all of those seasons. They of course made it to their first World Series with Lee playing a massive role.

Garza happily explained after Wednesday's game how he's found himself in this role -- a "hired gun," as one person put it -- three times before. With Minnesota in 2006. With Tampa Bay in 2008. And with the Chicago Cubs in 2011 (though the Cubs did what the Cubs do and never contended).

Garza relishes this moment of being deputized by the Rangers as the final piece of the starting rotation that might have to push this team to the playoffs.

"Being a hired gun, I'm a pitcher. I'm going to come out and do my job every night," Garza said. "As long as I can go as deep as I can and give my team the best chance to win, that's what I strive for every night. Try to get nine [innings pitched]."

He went 7⅓ innings while stifling the Yankees on Wednesday, allowing five hits and an unearned run. Garza threw 95 pitches and probably could have gone deeper, but the Rangers' bullpen has been so hot that manager Ron Washington went to southpaw Neal Cotts with four straight left-handed batters coming up.

Garza held his glove up to his face as Washington came out to get him with one out in the top of the eighth. What was the nature of their first exchange of Washington coming to get the ball?

"I just said he did a great job out there," Washington said. "He said, 'OK.'"

Garza had to beat the Yankees with little run support from his new offense, but he didn't flinch. A.J. Pierzynski gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with a two-out double, and it looked like that might be enough for Garza.

But a throwing error by Garza to start the top of the sixth led to the game being tied at one. Garza bobbled a comebacker to the mound, then grabbed the ball and fired it into right field, allowing Yankees speedster Brett Gardner to race all the way to third base.

Garza nearly got out of the inning. He made a nice play on another comebacker by Ichiro Suzuki. He made a good pitch to the Yankees' best hitter -- and only feared batter -- Robinson Cano, who lined it over a drawn-in infield to score Gardner and tie the game at one.

"I kept turning and I didn't stop myself from sliding; that's why I let the ball go too wild," Garza said. "It caught me off guard, and it's one of those things. I made sure I got the next guy out, and I was so close to not letting them score.

"That's what I was ticked off about. Cano's a great hitter, and I thought I made a great pitch and he got just enough to get over [Ian] Kinsler's head."

Garza didn't blink. With Cano at first base, he got Lyle Overbay to ground into a double play to quickly end the inning.

"He can execute pitches and he never gets rattled," Washington said.

The Rangers offense isn't scoring much, but Pierzynski did give Garza back the lead with a two-out solo home run in the bottom of the inning for a 2-1 score.

Garza went back out and attacked the strike zone. Of his 95 pitches, 66 were strikes. That's 70 percent. Washington calls that pounding the zone.

"Pounding the zone with a vengeance," Washington said. "He's always been a strike-thrower. He's always kept the ball in play."

Garza's new teammates were impressed about his strike-throwing and his reaction to making the error.

"He was as advertised," said David Murphy, who provided an insurance run with a solo shot in the bottom of the eighth. "It's almost funny at times [the way he reacts]. It got a hold of him when he made that bad throw. He wants to win."

Garza might find himself in a different role than Burkett, Stottlemyre and Lee before him.

Those guys came to a Rangers team with a juggernaut of an offense. This one started the day ninth in the American League in runs scored.

Pitching -- and the starting rotation -- might have to lead the way. Garza might end up being the game-changer of them all.

"Our pitching has been leading the way all year," Washington said. "I don't see why it would change now. They're the reason why we are where we are. The guys out of the bullpen. The starting rotation. We have good pitching. Our offense will pick it up."