MILWAUKEE -- While Matt Garza and Aaron Harang worked dueling no-hitters into the seventh inning at Miller Park on Wednesday, one wondered whether Garza was trying to earn all $50 million in his first Brewers start, or whether Harang was trying to turn back the clock in his debut for the Braves.
Both men finally faltered, but it was Garza who faltered first. He surrendered a two-out home run to Chris Johnson in the seventh inning that sent Harang and the Braves to a 1-0 win in the finale of an entertaining opening series at Miller Park.
"One mistake and that's it," Garza said. "This is the big leagues. You have to pay for things like that."
The price was a tough-luck loss in Garza's official Brewers debut, despite holding the Braves to only one run and two hits in eight electric innings, with a walk and seven strikeouts. He needed only 90 pitches to get that far, but he was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning because the Brewers so desperately needed offense.
They moved a runner to third base against Harang with one out in the bottom of the seventh, but Ryan Braun was stranded there and Milwaukee never threatened again. In the three-game series against a Braves pitching staff battered by injuries, the Brewers scored four total runs and batted .184.
"I'm disappointed in that," manager Ron Roenicke said. "I think our offense is going to score runs and when we don't, I'm going to be disappointed. Sometimes you look at the other pitcher; I've seen Harang before and this was really a good ballgame for him. ... We're not an on-base team, so we need to swing it."
Said Brewers left fielder Logan Schafer, who had the first of the Brewers' two hits: "There's no panic in here about what our offense can do."
All of Atlanta's offense came on one swing from Johnson, who hit a low fastball from Garza over the left-field fence and into the Brewers bullpen with two outs in the top of the seventh inning. Before that, Garza had retired 20 of the 21 batters he'd faced.
"The ball I hit was probably the only ball he missed out over the plate," Johnson said.
The Brewers were about to get going against Harang. Schafer singled leading off the bottom of the seventh and was erased on a fielder's-choice grounder by Braun, who scooted to third base on an Aramis Ramirez single. But Braun was frozen on Jonathan Lucroy's infield popout, and Braves reliever Luis Avilan retired pinch-hitter Rickie Weeks on a routine bounce-out to preserve Atlanta's advantage.
Harang won his seventh career decision against the Brewers by allowing only those two hits and no runs in 6 2/3 innings, with a walk and three strikeouts.
As the zeros started dotting the scoreboard, Harang and Garza were both aware of what was happening.
"You try not to pay attention to that stuff, but I looked up there after six and saw zeros all the way across on both sides and it's like, OK, wow," Harang said.
Coming off an uneven Spring Training, Garza had no-hit stuff from his very first pitch, a 94-mph fastball up and away to Jason Heyward that went for a groundout to second base. Twenty-four of Garza's first 30 pitches were strikes. He didn't allow a baserunner until Freddie Freeman worked a seven-pitch walk with two outs in the fourth inning, but it was not Garza nibbling. When he retired Johnson on a groundout to end that inning with a no-hitter intact, Garza had thrown fastballs for 38 of his first 46 pitches. A handful touched 96 mph.
The only hits he allowed were Johnson's home run in the seventh inning and a harmless Gerald Laird single in the eighth.
"Garza threw the ball really well. You could argue he threw the ball better than Harang did, and it's a shame we couldn't put more people on base and [score] more runs for him," Schafer said. "If he pitches like that all year, that's just going to be -- he's going to have a Cy Young year."
According to STATS, Inc., Garza became only the second pitcher in Brewers history to pitch at least eight innings and surrender two or fewer hits in his debut with the club. The other was Steve Woodard, who allowed one hit in eight innings against Roger Clemens and the Blue Jays on July 28, 1997. Odell Jones earns an honorable mention. He had appeared for the Brewers in relief before limiting the Indians to one hit in 8 1/3 innings in his first Brewers start on May 28, 1988.
"I just came in telling myself, 'I'm going to attack,'" Garza said. "I know they're great hitters and they've got a nice lineup, but I just had a lot more confidence in my stuff than in them." The Brewers still have enjoyed only one no-hitter in their first 45 years as a franchise -- left-hander Juan Nieves' five-walk, seven-strikeout win in Baltimore on April 15, 1987. Nieves is now the pitching coach in Boston, which happens to be the Brewers' next stop on the schedule following an off-day Thursday.
Garza entered the season with one no-hitter to his credit. He threw the Tampa Bay Rays' first no-no in franchise history on July 26, 2010, when he faced the minimum 27 batters against the Tigers in a 5-0 victory. Following tenures with the Cubs and Rangers, he signed a four-year contract with the Brewers on Jan. 26 that represented the richest free-agent contract in Milwaukee's franchise history.
On Wednesday afternoon, he was asked whether he'd ever been part of dueling no-hitters that deep into a game, and Garza had a surprising answer.
"Yeah," Garza said. "I faced [Roy] 'Doc' Halladay like 12 times. I've faced CC Sabathia. I've faced all good guys. You just tip your cap, man. It was one hell of a game, and I hope fans enjoyed it."