Sunday, April 3, 2011Posted: 4:30 PM Updated: 7:45
By Patrick Mooney
Hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head and earphones plugged in, Matt Garza views his job through a very narrow prism: He gets paid to get outs.
Garza isnt in it for the style points, and he promised everyone that he would be ready when the bell rings. He slogged through spring training, complaining about the mound and the Arizona weather. Or, as manager Mike Quade said, No excuses.
Garza answered any doubters with Sundays performance in front of 30,857 fans at Wrigley Field. The Cubs just didnt finish as strong as Garza and couldnt close the deal for him in a 5-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was a game as weird as Garzas final line across seven innings: three runs, zero walks, 12 hits and 12 strikeouts, which were both career highs. It marked the most strikeouts for a pitcher in his Cubs debut since at least 1915.
The day before, you saw Garza on the top step of the dugout, cheering on his teammates like some utility infielder. He does not sit still and isnt afraid of the big stage. Thats why the Cubs gave up the ransom Tampa Bay demanded in their biggest, boldest offseason move.
Adjusting to a new league and a new city, Garza will practice bunting and speak with reporters after each start. But he doesnt care much about hitting or making friends with the media. Hes only 27 and has already been traded twice. He definitely has an edge.
I have to stay focused and stay prepared, Garza said. If I dont have to talk to anybody for two days, thats even better for me.
Garza said he had no doubts not one after putting up a 10.38 ERA in the Cactus League. The Cubs liked his velocity and the way the ball looked coming out of his hand. He went right after the Pirates (1-2), throwing 80 of his 106 pitches for strikes.
He was pretty good today, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a good job (of pitching to) his strength and within himself and keeping everything mellow. But you dont want to take anything from the guy.
Garza left with a 4-3 lead and then the Cubs really started to push their luck.
The Cubs (1-2) had already watched a fan spill a drink onto outfielder Garrett Jones during Carlos Penas two-run double off the right-field wall in the fourth inning.
Kerry Wood loaded the bases in the eighth before Jose Tabata flew out to right field. Tyler Colvin made a perfect throw to the plate and Soto smacked Jason Jaramillo in the face for the tag and inning-ending double play.
It unraveled in the ninth inning. Carlos Marmol walked the first batter he faced and blew the save even though only one ball got out of the infield. The Cubs got the potential tying run to third, but the game ended as Marlon Byrd grounded into a double play.
In the end, the Cubs lost another series to the Pirates, a team with an Opening Day payroll that USA Today calculated to be 45 million, or about 90 million less than what theyre spending on the North Side.
The Cubs went 5-10 against the Pirates last season and need to take advantage of what looks like an easier early schedule in 2011. This was an opportunity missed. The only positive spin was that Garza looked more like the 2008 ALCS MVP.
Ive seen Matt at his best and today he was awesome, said Pena, who played with Garza in Tampa Bay. He gave us a shot. I was just disappointed we couldnt deliver (the win).
Now its time for Garza to tunnel back into the routine hes developed between starts.
I get in a zone, he said. I really dont let a lot of things bother me.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.