posted on October 26, 2011 00:00
If the pressure of a win-or-go-home Game 6 is getting to Jaime Garcia, he's doing his best not to let it show.
"Obviously we were 10 and a half games behind and we needed a win every single game," Garcia said at the workout day Tuesday. "That's the mindset. And that's something that I've learned. I've learned that you've got to pitch like that every single game. It doesn't matter if it's the first start of the year or a game like tomorrow. You've got to take that mindset into every single game of the season."
It's a concept that Garcia has struggled to put into action in his young career. The lefty had an up-and-down season in his second full year as a member of the rotation. The good: Garcia was 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 15 home starts, and he had a first half that warranted discussion of an All-Star spot. The bad: away from Busch, Garcia had a 4.61 ERA and was prone to the big inning.
The extreme home-road split is a statistic Garcia has been faced with and questioned about every step of the way this season. He openly admits it's a problem, but doesn't know what lies at the root of his issues with pitching in enemy territory. Others have tried to make excuses for him - pitching coach Dave Duncan had the weakest and most memorable excuse, once citing cold room service as a culprit behind Garcia being off his game - but Garcia doesn't make excuses for himself. For now, it remains a mystery.
One common denominator in his struggles seems to be a simple lack of mental toughness. Manager Tony La Russa has seemed perplexed at times, frustrated at others when asked about Garcia's lapses. When things start to go badly, Garcia self-destructs, forgetting to do even the most basic of fundamentals. More than once he's been caught watching an outfielder chase down a ball in the gap instead of hustling to back up the throw.
And now here he is. Still just 25 years old, starting Game 6 of the World Series with a loss sending his team home for the winter, Garcia will take the mound and be asked to show a maturity that has eluded him at times this season.
So how, in the biggest game of his life, is Garcia facing the challenge?
"It feels the same way that it did the first playoff game that I pitched this year, same exact feeling," Garcia said. "Obviously this is the World Series, a little different, but to me personally, I try not to put extra pressure on myself or extra expectations. I'm just going to basically go out there and do my thing."
When he's good, he's very good. In his Game 2 start last week at Busch Stadium, Garcia went seven strong innings, allowing just three hits while striking out seven. He got a no-decision for the effort - Jason Motte, with the help of his infield defense, blew the save in the ninth inning - but it showed what Garcia is capable of.
La Russa pointed to that performance as a cause for optimism heading into Wednesday.
"Well, let's go back to how he pitched Game 2 for us," La Russa said. "I mean, if you look at our losses, this is the only thing we do really well as a team. I'm willing to bet everything that I have that last night there wasn't anybody on the pitching side blaming the offense or pitcher blaming the defense or the offense wasn't blaming our starters or relievers. I mean, we're a team.
"But if you look at our series, we really have pitched well. We've had one really good offensive game. So our confidence is very good that [Garcia]'s going to pitch well, and we're challenging our bats to do more."
If Garcia does pitch with composure, it will be an affirmation of what Garcia has said time and time again this postseason: win or lose, he's learning with every new start.
And for the youngest member of the starting staff, that hard-earned lesson may be the most important one going forward.
"The last few months, the thing that's helped me is that it gets to a point where when you're on the mound you can't worry about little things like mechanics and other things," Garcia said, "other distractions, and all you've got to do is just try to go out there and battle, just try to give your team a chance. It doesn't matter how it is or how you feel physically, how the weather is, home or away, just got to give your team a chance, and that's basically what I've been doing.
"And I'm going to keep doing it."