Garcia Tosses Another Gem as Yankees Nip Baltimore 3-2

Where would the Yankees be without Freddy Garcia? Likely fighting for their Playoff lives, instead of easing into September with a comfortable lead for the American League Wild Card spot. The easy, steady veteran’s splitter danced and dived for six innings, in his return from the disabled list Monday night, to help the Yankees earn a 3-2 win and series split in Baltimore.

Call it veteran savvy, chalk it up to experience or refer to Garcia’s success as an acquired wisdom, which can only come with age; either way, he has befuddled American League batters all season long. As the calendar turns to September, Garcia is presently tied for 10th in the league in Earned Run Average (ERA), bumping elbows with Red Sox ace, Jon Lester. Garcia doesn’t have an eye-popping strikeout total but by minimizing Bases-on-Balls (BB) and allowing a paltry 10 homeruns, he has been able to carve out a niche in the fluctuating Yankees rotation and gives a reassuring feeling every fifth or sixth day.

Yet the perception and feeling of Garcia’s success at the age of 35 is one of genuine surprise. The velocity on his pitches has declined with his increased age. The overwhelming majority of his outs come on balls put in play by opposing hitters. Yet he keeps finding a way to win, baffling the critics as much as he is Major League hitters.

The veteran started his career off as a power pitcher for the Seattle Mariners in 1999, relying on a mid-90s fastball, with plenty of movement, to rack up high strikeout totals. He won 17 games in his rookie season, pitching over 200 innings. His 2001 season vaulted him into the discussion as one of the best pitchers in the American League, as he led the junior circuit in ERA and innings pitched. Garcia was the workhorse for the Mariners team which won the most games in MLB history.

After some arm trouble and injuries, he’s since dialed down his fastball a solid 10-15 miles per hour but he’s no less effective. In fact, 2010 was perhaps a harbinger of things to come. Garcia produced 18 quality starts as a member of the Chicago White Sox, pitching in very hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field. A quality start is defined as a game in which the starting pitcher allows no more than three earned runs and pitches a minimum of six innings. So far in 2011, Garcia has 15 quality starts for the Yankees, while pitching in very hitter friendly, Yankee Stadium. He will remain in the Yankees rotation and don’t be surprised if the native Venezuelan finds himself pitching in a big spot come October.

With so much uncertainty on whether Bartolo Colon can finish the season strong, AJ Burnett’s ever-ballooning ERA and Phil Hughes’ struggles since coming off the disabled list, Garcia has been a model of consistency for the Bronx Bombers. Following Monday night’s Yankees victory Garcia said, “Go out there and perform. If I pitch good, I pitch good. If I pitch bad, I pitch bad. Nothing I can do.” With that kind of loose cool, it’s no surprise Freddy Garcia has kept coasting in 2011.

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