Garcia's sensational start can't save Cards
Club has lost seven games this year after lefty exited with lead
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia was all too familiar with this script, one that relegated him to a hard-luck no-decision in a start that, had the Cardinals successfully closed out, would have been widely proclaimed as one of the best in his young career.
From a pure performance standpoint, the outing still very much belongs in that discussion. But outcome typically dictates recognition, and by such standards, the Rangers' come-from-behind 2-1 win over the Cards in Game 2 of the World Series cost Garcia significant spotlight.
The 25-year-old left-hander exited Thursday's game following seven sensational scoreless innings. A Texas offense that has smacked around good pitching all year made minimal rustle against Garcia, who had not been able to finish five innings in either of his National League Championship Series starts.
In the first World Series start of his career, Garcia allowed three hits -- his fewest since a six-inning outing on July 5 -- and struck out seven, a total he hadn't reached in any of his past 21 starts. He left with a 1-0 lead, too, after Allen Craig pinch-hit for Garcia and delivered an RBI single.
"I've been working a lot to keep the ball down, get ahead early in the count," said Garcia, who became the first Mexican-born pitcher to start a World Series game since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981. "But I felt like that was the same thing I did against Milwaukee [in Game 5 of the NLCS], too. I was attacking the strike zone and mixing pitches."
Plenty deserving of picking up the first postseason win of his career, Garcia, instead, watched the bullpen cost him again, as it also lost leads for him eight times during the regular season.
Insert the blown save from Game 2 into this year's inventory, and the Cardinals have now lost seven games in which Garcia exited in line for a win. Six of those defeats have come by one run.
"He went out there and threw strikes, and he did a great job," Craig said. "Obviously, we'd like to get more runs, but that's baseball. Their guy [starter Colby Lewis] pitched good, too."
Garcia used just 86 pitches to cruise through the seventh, and he closed out his night by throwing a first-pitch strike to eight of the last nine Texas hitters he faced. Only once did Garcia throw more than 14 pitches in an inning. The exception came in the fourth, when he needed 21.
The final two pitches in that frame -- an 86-mph slider followed by a sinker of the same speed -- were especially significant, given that Garcia has shown a propensity to let innings rapidly spiral out of control.
With runners on the corners, Adrian Beltre worked the count into his favor, 3-1. Garcia responded by luring Beltre to swing through the next two pitches. That wrapped up the critical six-pitch sequence, the threat and the inning. Garcia didn't face a batter with a runner in scoring position again all night.
"To me, we needed to be more patient," Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "He had us chasing pitches out of the strike zone. But he threw a great game."
Garcia faced only three batters over the minimum, and it took four innings before Texas pushed a ball out of the infield. Thursday also marked just the third time this year that Garcia did not allow a run to score while he was on the mound. A span of 28 starts separated this one from the previous occurrence.
"We didn't win today, but I'm satisfied with my job personally," said Garcia, who became the 12th pitcher in Cardinals history to strike out seven in a World Series game. "I went out there and felt like I did a really good job against a really tough lineup."
If there is any consolation to be found in a performance that held minimal impact in the outcome, it's that the Cards were reminded that they do, indeed, have a rotation weapon not named Chris Carpenter. With the Series now tied, 1-1, it is likely that St. Louis will need Garcia to take the mound again.
He'd be the club's Game 6 starter, and it's no coincidence that manager Tony La Russa lined that up so Garcia's next outing would also come at home, where the lefty posted a 2.55 ERA during the regular season.
And there's the Game 2 start to fall back on, one that the Cardinals will make sure becomes no afterthought.
"That's a major step that he can rely on the rest of his career," La Russa said. "He's done that for us a bunch of times his first two years, but [considering] this situation and these circumstances, that's huge for us and for him."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.