MILWAUKEE – There were orange Popeyes containers stuffed into a dumpster on Miller Park’s service level late Friday afternoon, a few steps from the home clubhouse.
Let The Matt Garza Show begin!
The Milwaukee Brewers can throw out their trash without it becoming a huge national story, because this isn’t Wrigley Field. They aren’t the Cubbies and they don’t have the hundred-years thing. Garza doesn’t miss the nonstop rebuilding spin or the incessant trade rumors or the Cake Boss occurrences.
After notching a 5-2 victory, Garza stood at his locker and met with the media for less than three minutes. He insisted that this was just another game and that he was just trying to keep his mechanics in line and stick to the game plan. It was still enough time to deliver a few money quotes, because the Cubs still strike a nerve.
“It’s a lot of fun to win,” Garza said. “You go through three years of constantly hoping, you kind of run out of hope. You come to a team like this, where every day we’re going out to win. We’re not going out to hope to win.
“We’re going out with the attitude that we’re going to win. It’s a lot different. It brings up a lot more emotion, a lot better emotion than hope. It’s confidence. That’s what we’re playing with a lot right now.”
Talking about process and long-term assets and years of club control didn’t get Garza’s adrenaline pumping. He always talked about getting to October, and he might get another chance with The Brew Crew, the resourceful small-market team with the best record in baseball (17-6).
The Brewers sold 32,868 tickets for the day Bob Uecker got his statute at the top of Miller Park, or 545 more than the Cubs did for Wrigley Field’s centennial. Garza (1-2, 4.09 ERA) shut down his old team, cruising through seven innings and giving up two runs on four hits.
One of Garza’s seven strikeouts summed up the frustration: Junior Lake whiffed on a slider in the dirt and broke the bat over his left leg, snapping it into two pieces.
When a Chicago reporter asked if he senses that frustration in the other clubhouse, Garza said: “I don’t know, and I don’t care. I’m worried about my 25 guys in this locker room. That’s about it.”
Former general manager Jim Hendry gambled in January 2011, making Garza the headliner in an eight-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, giving up a package that included Chris Archer, the 25-year-old right-hander who finished third in last season’s American League Rookie of the Year voting.
“The Cubs gave up some big-time prospects to get him, but it didn’t work out, for the team or for him,” said Aramis Ramirez, the ex-Cub hitting .302 with 17 RBI for Milwaukee. “Now he’s got a fresh start here and we’re playing pretty good. We’re going to need him.”
Garza had trouble staying healthy and wound up making 60 starts in a Cubs uniform, going 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA for fifth-place teams in turmoil.
Last summer, the Cubs cashed in 13 Garza starts for four prospects from a deep Texas Rangers system. That’s a pretty good haul, depending on how third baseman Mike Olt develops and even if Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez max out as relievers. But so much is riding on the right shoulder of top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards, who got shut down after Friday’s MRI.
Yes, Garza’s got some quirks, from the fried chicken he eats before every start, to when he talks to the media – not the day before his start, a policy he wouldn’t change even when he first reported to Texas after the big trade – to the Grim Reaper hoodies, to last year’s personal catcher (Dioner Navarro).
Garza can have a short fuse, and a checkered medical history made the Cubs skeptical about going all-in with a long-term deal. But he’s also a fierce competitor with a strong work ethic, someone who can give the clubhouse some energy, attitude and a sense of swagger.
There aren’t many other players who would have moved the needle on a night where the Bulls and Blackhawks both had playoff games. Garza made his bones in the AL East, becoming the 2008 ALCS MVP and eliminating Theo Epstein’s Boston Red Sox.
With Theo-mania at fever pitch in February 2012, a Boston reporter showed up at the old Fitch Park complex in Arizona and asked Garza what he knew about his new boss.
“That I was able to kick the crap out of him every year,” Garza said.
The Brewers handed Garza four years and $50 million guaranteed, the kind of Edwin Jackson commitment the Cubs wish they didn’t have on their books now. Some 90 miles up I-94, this could be a really good rivalry – if the Cubs (7-15) stop talking about the future and actually become competitive again.
Until then, the entertainment value is Garza Being Garza.
“I’ve been on five different teams, man,” he said. “If I had to get up for everybody, I’d be tired by midseason.”