ST. PETERSBURG -- Starting pitchers are a "different breed," according to Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach, given their eccentricities and often overwhelming understanding of themselves and the way their bodies work on the mound.
Matt Garza, who threw the first no-hitter in Rays history in a 5-0 win over the Tigers at Tropicana Field Monday night, is no exception.
The right-hander is known for his quirks. Before every start the last two years, he has ordered a meal from Popeye's Louisiana Chicken -- tradition he started after a strong outing during the 2008 season. He eats the spicy chicken and sides first, then his teammates can dig in as well. He even did it before winning Game 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
Garza makes sure to hop over the chalk line each time he makes his way to the mound. He goes on a lengthy run the day after each of his starts. And he seemingly always has his headphones on, with music playing.
"He's a little bit in his own world," Shoppach said with a laugh after catching Garza's no-no. "You just try to rein in all his energy and all his skills because you never know mentally what you're going to get."
Despite that, Shoppach said the energetic Garza was no different on the mound, in the clubhouse or in the dugout Monday night than usual, except for how incredibly locked into the game he was.
"He controlled himself," Shoppach said. "That's a big part of being a pitcher is controlling your emotions, controlling your tempo, and he did that today."
Garza -- the first player named Matt to throw a no-hitter -- was no less quirky after his no-hit, one-walk outing in which he faced the minimum 27 batters. Despite being dominant on the mound all night and throwing 80 of his 120 pitches for strikes, Garza said he was off mechanically. It wasn't bad enough for pitching coach Jim Hickey to say anything, he said, but he had to remind himself between every inning to correct the little mistakes he said he was making -- not that anyone else noticed them.
"I was falling off the mound," he said. "A lot of pitches and fastballs were running away from me. I was throwing breaking balls in the dirt most of the night and just had to keep reminding myself to stay under control, keep making pitches, just keep going for Shoppach's glove."
Garza also claimed that he didn't know he had a no-hit bid going until the ninth inning. As he was heading to the mound, he noticed fellow starters James Shields, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis in the exact same positions they previously had been.
"I just knew I had one guy on base because I walked him, and I was upset about that," Garza said. "I knew there weren't people on, but I didn't look up. I was just looking at my pitches. ... In the ninth inning, I roll out there, I look up and go, 'Oh, crap.'"
Shoppach wasn't quite ready to believe that.
"They know in the first. They know in the second. They know in the third. They know in the fourth," Shoppach said. "I don't know if I'd put it past him, but these guys know when their toenails don't fit right in their shoes. They know what's going on when they're pitching. They might not know what's going on when they're not pitching, but they know every pitch when they're throwing it."
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.