When the Cubs get to the point of closing the deal on a contract extension for Matt Garza, look for the inevitable, lazy comparisons to his emotionally charged predecessor, Carlos Zambrano, and that five-year, $91-million extension in 2007 that the Cubs came to rue.
As new Cubs president Theo Epstein said with about a week left of spring training, ``He walks sort of a fine line between in control and out of control that works, that really works for him emotionally.''
Garza was admittedly a stubborn and emotionally reactive pitcher early in his career. But the intense, focused veteran the Cubs hope to build their new-era staff around showed again Thursday in no uncertain way how unfair any of those mindless comparisons to Zambrano are.
Nobody is more supportive of teammates on the days he doesn't pitch; nobody more competitive on the days he does. ``He embraces the competitive aspects of the game and doesn't try to pretend it's just another day,'' Epstein said.
And almost every reason he's a guy worth building a contending staff around was on display Thursday - from the 8 2/3 scoreless innings to his reaction to the unbelievably wild throw he air-mailed into the stands on the would-be final play that cost him a chance at the shutout and complete game.
At an already pushing-it 119-pitch mark, Garza was done after that throw, and Shawn Camp took over to get the final out in an 8-0 win over the Brewers.
``Unfortunately, we might have just witnessed the greatest worst throw of all-time,'' manager Dale Sveum. ``But I just couldn't let him go out and have another 10-pitch at-bat or something like that.''
He handed Sveum the ball, walked back to the dugout, bee-lined for the tunnel - out of sight of cameras, media, Brewers and even teammates - and then unloaded in a personal rage against himself.
At one point during the minute-or-so-long episode he spied a couple of reporters making their way through and open door toward the interview room and yelled, ``Shut that f---- door! ... Who the hell are you!?''
Then he ducked into the nearby weight room and continued his venting by himself.
Out of control?
Not even close. Almost every professional athlete at that level has those moments. The ones with self-control are rarely seen by others, much less the public, in those moments.
``He's actually got a method to his madness,'' Epstein said.
Garza apologized to the reporters before starting his postgame interview. He pointed out the obvious, that he was angry with himself for missing a chance to finish what he started.
``I was one out away,'' he said. ``We won, that's the plus side. But damn. .... I caught it, watched it from my hand and thought, `Son of a gun.'
``I can't be pissed off at Skip - 120 pitches in, there's no reason to be throwing 130, 140 pitches.
``I'm pissed at myself, but man, we played one hell of a game.''
Garza can pitch. He has fire like few others. He's still just 28 and in his prime. He's already an American League Championship Series MVP with, obviously, World Series experience.
And when the Cubs sit on their side of Busch Stadium on Friday, forced to watch the St. Louis Cardinals get their World Series rings, some of the people running the Cubs might take a moment to imagine a guy like Garza helping them re-enact a similar scene at Wrigley Field.
For his part, Garza won't spend any time imagining that. Or even feeling that the appropriate reaction is anything close to motivation.
``I think it should be more of pissed off,'' he said, ``because we could have knocked them out of the playoffs - especially that last week of the season, if we take that series, and we kind of handed it over.''
That's part of why, when Epstein was asked whether the results this season will have any bearing on their intentions with Garza, he said, simply:
``Anytime you're contemplating significant personnel moves, you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you're going,'' Epstein said, ``and one week's worth of performance, let alone one season's worth, doesn't necessarily impact that significantly.
``Some issues are best examined up close, from 10 feet away, and some are best examined from 10,000 feet away. That's probably one that falls in the latter. It's sort of a big-picture issue.''
The big picture? Sign him up.