Freddy Garcia Gives Reason to ‘Trust’ Him

“Dirty Dozen” is what the Daily News headline read on May 15, 2007. The Yankees were eight games out in the AL East and a 12-game stretch against the White Sox, Mets, Red Sox and Angels was said to be the defining moment of the season. Either the Yankees were going to climb out of their 17-20 hole, or Joe Torre’s job was going to be seriously questioned following two straight ALDS exits and whatever happened in the strike-shortened season of 2004 in which there were no playoffs.

Mike Lupica wrote a column that day that called for that headline. In it he talked to Brian Cashman about the state of the Yankees and whether or not an aura still surrounded the team. The Yankees’ answered Lupica’s question and the Daily News’ headline by going 4-8 over the 12 games and sat at 21-27 after the four series.

At the end of that season, the 12-game stretch – that I took as a set of 12 one-game playoffs because the Daily News made it seem like that – ended up being just part of a bad stretch to begin a 94-win season. The 2007 Yankees proved that it’s hard to distinguish the key moment in a season or the turning point of a season when the season is still going on. But this hasn’t stopped us from pulling out parts of the season and deeming them more important than other parts.

I first saw the week of July 2 the day the Yankees’ 2012 schedule came out: seven games on the road against Tampa Bay and Boston to finish the first half. Up until last Wednesday at around 11 a.m. I viewed this week as a chance for the Yankees to separate themselves even more than they already have in the division and possibly take themselves out of the one-game playoff scenario before the All-Star Game. (Crazy, right? A wise coach one said, “It’s not worth winning if you can’t win big.” Yes, that coach was Coach Reilly in The Mighty Ducks.”)

But on Wednesday at around 11 a.m. CC Sabathia hit the disabled list with a low-grade groin strain. About three hours after that Andy Pettitte’s ankle was broken by a line drive. About 31 hours after that, Joe Girardi managed the Yankees to a loss to the White Sox despite having a two-run lead entering the ninth. About 21 hours after that, Adam Warren making his major league debut in place of CC Sabathia blew a 4-0 first-inning lead and put 10 men on base in 2 1/3 innings as the Yankees allowed 14 runs (the most runs they have allowed this year) to the White Sox. The idea of trying to create even more separation in the division suddenly became a mission to just hold down the fort (a favorite Brian Cashman saying) until CC returns.

The biggest problem, aside from losing CC and Andy, became the idea that Freddy Garcia would rejoin the rotation for the first time since a disastrous April that has to make April 2009 Chien-Ming Wang and April 2011 Phil Hughes not feel so bad about their places in history. In four starts, Garcia put together this line: 13.2 IP, 25 H, 20 R, 19 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 3 HR, 12.51 ERA, 2.195 WHIP. Who would want the owner of those numbers to take the ball every fifth day for them? More importantly, who would want the owner of those numbers to take the ball in Tampa Bay and then in Boston in his first two starts since being removed from the rotation? Not me.

Monday night marked an important game for the Yankees because it would start this seven-game finish to the first half against the team’s two direct threats, and it would be the debut of the return of Freddy “The Chief” Garcia. With such a significant game and start, I decided to watch Garcia’s outing and write down my thoughts during his innings of work for a retro recap. Here’s what happened.

First Inning
Freddy Garcia has a two-run lead to work with thanks to a four-hit first inning from the offense. Let’s see if he can do the opposite of what Adam Warren did with an early lead. I’m setting the over/under on innings at 4 2/3, hits at seven and wild pitches at two.

Garcia gets things going with an 88-mph fastball called strike to Desmond Jennings. Some velocity from The Chief!

Garcia gets a little bit of luck (no, not the Lotto guy) as Jennings hits a grounder up the middle and Garcia goes for it, but it deflects off his glove and to Robinson Cano for the first out. If that gets through then Jennings is off and running, and this might be Adam Warren Friday Night 2.0.

No one ever wants to see Josh Hamilton or Jose Bautista or Albert Pujols up against them, but to me, Carlos Pena falls into that same category even if his numbers don’t match up. I felt like the Charlestown Chiefs locker room when they found out Ogie Ogilthorpe was suspended when Pena moved to the NL Central last year. And I felt like the Charlestown Chiefs lineup when they saw Ogilthorpe skate out for introductions when Pena signed with the Rays and returned to the AL East this year.

Garcia gets Pena to 2-2 and then tries to paint the inside corner with a 90-mph fastball that looked like the signature Bartolo Colon two-strike pitch to lefties. The count runs full, but Pena flies out to center for the second out.

Ah, B.J. Upton … yet another guy that most fan bases wouldn’t understand why I don’t want to see him up against the Yankees.

Ken Singleton tells us that Upton is currently 3-for-41, and Lou Piniella says, “Upton should be more consistent than he is.” Everyone always say that Upton has all the potential in the world and should be one of the best players in the league. Upton will be 28 next month, so at what point do we stop thinking he is going to be a perennial All-Star and do we just accept the type of player that he is? I know the 2008 ALCS is a reason to believe that he can be one of the premier players in the game, but as a career .255 hitter, who hasn’t hit over .243 since 2008, he needs to start showing it.

Upton flies out to right field on a great diving catch by Nick Swisher (see, I can give Swisher credit when he deserves it) to end the inning.

After a 1-2-3, 14-pitch first inning from Garcia, I’m really too scared to comment on his performance or his stuff at this point. Why break up a good thing?

Second Inning
Jeff Keppinger replaces Hideki Matsui to lead off the second inning, as Matsui injured himself running after a Derek Jeter foul ball. I used to always think the Yankees were overreacting when they wouldn’t let Matsui play the outfield in 2009, and I thought it was a non-story when people were surprised that he was allowed to play it with the Angels in 2010 and the A’s in 2011. But I guess there’s a reason why Matsui is supposed to only be a DH at this point and not playing right field on turf.

Keppinger drills the first pitch (a fastball down the middle) to left field for a leadoff single and the first hit off Garcia. There goes the perfect game.

Ben Zobrist cranks a 1-2 pitch down the right-field line and it looks like it’s going to be a two-run home run, but it misses the foul pole by a few feet and now I have to erase the “Ladies and gentlemen, Freddy Garcia” tweet I had started typing. I only got as far as “Ladies and gentlem” before the ball went foul.

Zobrist hits a rocket to the gap, but Swisher gets there for the first out. (It’s probably not good when you’re worried about your right fielder making every catch.)

Luke Scott comes to the plate, and if you’re going to have the facial hair design that Scott has you better be an unbelievable hitter. Because if you’re going to go to the plate looking like that and the big screen in the outfield shows that you’re hitting .207 and Ken Singleton tells us that you are in a for 1-for-30 slide then you might want to think about toning the look down.

Scott hits a line drive, but right to Mark Teixeira who steps on first for a double play to end the inning.

Luck has certainly been on Garcia’s side so far. How does that saying go? It’s better to be lucky than good? I think Garcia would sign up for that since no one knows if he’s even good anymore.

An 11-pitch second inning and Garcia has faced the minimum.

Third Inning
Jose Lobaton flies to right on a 1-2 slider to start things off.

Here’s Will Rhymes, who I have never liked from his days with the Tigers, and really for no specific reason. But if that feeling is triggered then he must have done something against the Yankees in the last two years.

Rhymes singles to left on a 1-1 curveball from Garcia and the Rays have their second baserunner.

Elliot Johnson pops out to A-Rod and Garcia is one out away from three scoreless innings. If you had told me before the game that Garcia would pitch three scoreless innings, I would have laughed at you then cried tears of joy when I realized you weren’t kidding and then hugged you to make sure the world wasn’t going to end. We’re one out away from me hugging you anyway.

Jennings grounds out for the second time on 1-2 slider to second. Garcia throws just 13 pitches in the inning and is at a very economical 38 through three. He’s expected to throw between 65 and 70 for the game.

Fourth Inning
Garcia strikes out Pena to lead off the fourth inning, for his first strikeout of the game, and it’s always good to see Pena go down swinging (this time on a slider).

Just as I’m about to type a B.J. Upton joke, he hits a first-pitch slider for a solo home run to left field to cut the Yankees’ lead to 2-1. Upton had been 3-for-42, and just like most players who are slumping, the Yankees are always there to right the ship.

Keppinger goes down swinging and Zobrist grounds out to second to end the inning. A 14-pitch inning and Garcia is at 52.

One run through four innings isn’t bad for Garcia. Actually it’s unbelievable. I would have signed up for three runs in four innings from Garcia and that’s a 6.75 ERA. So, one run in four innings? This feels like watching Cliff Lee pitch for your team in the playoffs, which sadly I have never experienced.

Fifth Inning
Here comes Luke Scott again. Scott usually kills the Yankees and since Upton was in a 3-for-42 slump and then homered, I’m expecting some sort of dagger from Scott here now that he’s 1-for-31.

Garcia falls behind him 3-1, and if Scott sees that “fastball” we could have a tie game here.

A 3-1 slider gets Scott to pop out to A-Rod in foul territory and there’s one down in the inning. A 3-1 pitch from Garcia in April meant an extra-base hit so there’s clearly progress here.

Lobaton goes down looking on a slider for the second out. This game feels too easy. A Freddy Garcia start in 2012 is supposed to be painful and agonizing to watch, but this feels like a Sabathia or Pettitte start. It can’t keep up this way, can it?

Even though Garcia is cruising, this game won’t erase my fear of him starting in Fenway Park again this weekend. Speaking of which, there are four games in three days at Fenway Park. The over/under on hours of baseball is 18, and total runs is 44. I’m going to take the over on both and might even parlay them.

The pesky Will Rhymes singles on a line drive to center field to keep the inning alive, and he’s now 2-for-2 tonight.

Garcia bounces back to strike out Johnson swinging on yet another slider. Garcia has allowed one run on four hits through five innings. Is this real life? Seriously, is this real life? This Garcia start has been so good that I’m too scared to tweet during it because it feels like a perfect game. Yes, four baserunners feels like a perfect game.

Sixth Inning
Garcia is supposed to throw 65 to 70 pitches in this start and he will start the sixth inning at 69 pitches against the top of the order. I’m not sure if he’s batter to batter at this point with Joe Girardi, but you can’t blame Girardi for leaving him in the way he has looked.

Desmond Jennings grounds out on the first pitch (an 87-mph fastball) from Garcia, and there’s one down.

So, remember before when I said how Carols Pena is in the elite class of opposing hitters that scare me? Well, that’s why. Pena hits a 2-1 slider out of the park to tie the game on Garcia’s 74th pitch. Again, you can’t blame Girardi for leaving him, but there certainly are questions as to why Garcia was left in if his maximum pitch count was 70 pitches. And where are the two lefties in the bullpen to face Pena? That’s not me asking these questions of Girardi. That’s just me saying there are potential questions. I’m calm. Everything is fine.

Here comes Girardi to take out Garcia as he signals for the righty, Cody Eppley.

The Yankees would go on to take a 3-2 lead only to blow that lead as well and wind up losing 4-3 after David Robertson couldn’t get a big out and Mark Teixeira couldn’t field a ground ball for their eighth loss in a row at Tropicana Field.

As for Garcia it was obviously his best start of the year. The Chief showed that his thoughts about him lacking arm strength in April were accurate and he finished with the following line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2 HR. He proved that he still has some 2011 left in him and that he can be trusted to fill the void left by Pettitte. Well, maybe “trusted” is too strong of a word. I probably shouldn’t throw a word like that around so carelessly until we see what he does this weekend at Fenway.

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