By Corey Gottlieb / MLB.comMatt Garza was good enough to win Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.
He was good enough to beat Boston twice, good enough to outduel Jon Lester twice, good enough to hold the Red Sox to a lone earned run twice. His fastball was fast enough, his breaking ball sharp enough, for him to go 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA to earn series MVP honors.
"He gave us fits," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "He gave us nothing out there."
Where raw talent is concerned, Garza has the ability to give teams fits every time he toes the rubber.
For that reason, his is not an unlikely story. He was not cut from his high school team, nor was he told he'd never make it. He did not will his way to this point on the wings of a journey that was two parts heart, one part skill.
To the contrary, Garza pitched his way here. Considered by many to have the best stuff on an up-and-coming Rays staff, he has steadily improved since earning Minor League Player of the Year honors with the Twins in 2006.
The product of that improvement -- along with a six-player trade that sent him to Tampa Bay last offseason -- has been Garza's growth into a rotation fixture. And, as the righty's recent work would indicate, he is without question a player to be watched.
Only, he is much, much more than that, and it is here that Matt Garza's story becomes less about baseball than it is about life.
Ask Garza how he identifies himself -- as a person, as a man, as an
adult -- and he will talk to you about the daily trials of raising two children at 24. Ask him about the road he's traveled, and he'll tell you a story about family, about growing up long before he ever thought he'd need to.
Close to the time of his graduation from Washington Union High School in Fresno, Calif., Garza -- then barely old enough to vote -- and longtime girlfriend Serina Ortiz welcomed their son, Matthew II, into the world. Not long after, the righty was selected by the Rockies in the 40th round of the 2002 Draft.
"There's no telling where Matt would be without his son," Rudy Garza, Matt's father, told USA Today. "When he found out he was going to be a father, he became a man."
He has since become much more. Garza and Ortiz had a daughter, Sierra, in 2005, and are now engaged. His nucleus complete, the hurler has found faith and foundation in a place where baseball is secondary.
And so for Garza, perhaps a Game 7 did not bear quite the same implications as it would have for another starter. Then again, perhaps his kids were watching.
Corey Gottlieb is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.