CHICAGO -- Seven starts into the 2012 season and Chicago Cubs’ starting pitchers have been one out away from a complete game victory twice.
Both times the final outs were seemingly wrapped up, only to be tossed away by defensive miscues. On Thursday, Matt Garza was the victim of his own mistake as he threw a slow grounder off the bat of Norichika Aoki into the stands.
Manager Dale Sveum quickly went out to the mound and pulled Garza (8 2/3 innings pitched, 3 hits, 9 strikeouts and two walks), who was already at 119 pitches. Righty Shawn Camp came in to record the final out and seal the Cubs’ 8-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers
“I think he was in complete shock,” Sveum said of pulling Garza. “With his personality, it’ll take him a little time to calm down from that. But he pitched one heck of a game, impressive. Not a lot of stress through the innings. It was nice for the offense to have a big day.”
Sveum was accurate in his assumption that Garza wasn’t too pleased by his error and inability to finish off the game. Garza had some choice words deep in the tunnel by the Cubs’ clubhouse within earshot of some members of the media.
“Like I said last week, when I start a game I intend to finish it,” Garza said, after quickly apologizing for losing his cool. “I was one out away, you know we won, that’s the plus side. Oh well, come back in six days.”
Garza was clear that he wasn’t angry with anyone but himself.
“I got [the ball], saw [first baseman Bryan] LaHair and said ‘son of a gun,’” Garza said. “The ball felt like I threw a change-up rolled up in dirt, dang it. I’m fine throwing it to the bases, but like I said, it just slipped out. All spring I was just dotting [the first baseman] in the chest. Today, just, [dang] it. It is what it is, I can’t be [ticked] off at skip, 120 pitches in, there’s no reason to be throwing 130 or 140. Like I said when [Jeff] Samardzija got his shot, you get your one shot and that’s it. I’m [ticked] off at myself, but man, we played one hell of a game. We got a lead, smelled blood and went out and got it.”
A six-run third inning for the Cubs was much needed; the bats had failed to put together a consistent attack in the first six games of the season. They didn’t send any balls into the seats, but 11 singles on the day to go with two doubles (both by catcher Steve Clevenger) were more than enough to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers.
“It was a nice offensive game,” Clevenger said of his 3-for-4 day. “But the main thing is just staying focused behind the plate and getting Garza through what he needed to get through.”
Clevenger and Garza were both aware that something was off for the Cubs’ starter early, as he allowed two walks and a single in the first two innings, but came out of it unscathed.
“It was just mechanical adjustments,” Garza said. “I felt like stuff was too long or too short, I wasn’t getting enough drive. I asked [Ryan] Dempster if he could look at something and right away he said, ‘Yeah, it looks like this.’ It’s awesome to have a guy like that on the bench. Very perceptive and really helped me clean that up.”
Sveum has been thrilled with the way his starting pitchers have performed. Through seven games, they’ve been the lone bright spot of the season, especially the top three of Dempster, Garza and Samardzija. In the five starts, they’ve combined to toss 37 2/3 innings with a 1.43 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
Garza admitted he’s no soothsayer, but he felt that with the team pitching well and playing good defense, the offense would eventually come around and help lead them to a good season.
“We just keep playing hard until the last out’s made and good things will happen,” Garza said. “That’s all I can say, I can’t see into the future. (The starting pitching is) kind of the jumping point. We faltered last year because suffered two major injuries in the first week. We have guys that can pitch, we got guys that are hungry and can throw so I think we’ll be all right.”
Almost finished: The Cubs only had four complete games all of last season, the first of which didn’t come until July 2 when Garza went the distance in a 1-0 loss to the White Sox. They only had two complete game victories all season, only one of which was a shutout (Randy Wells, August 29). Seven games into the 2012 season and the Cubs have been one out away from complete game victories twice.
Not-so-friendly rivals: While his manager may have a positive spin to watching the Cardinals get their World Series rings on Friday, Garza had a different point of view.
“I think we should be [ticked] off because we could have knocked them out of the playoffs in the second-to-the-last series last year and we kind of handed it over,” Garza said about the Cubs losing two of three to the Cardinals in late September. “I think it should be more motivation than anything, [the World Series] could have been somebody else’s if we would have played better.”