Would Cardinals manager Tony La Russa really start someone other than lefty Jaime Garcia in Game 1? Was La Russa trying to pull a fast one? The newspaper headlines and local sports-talk radio shows couldn't get enough.
The reason they were surprised was simple. The 25-year-old Garcia has flat-out dominated the Phillies in his two seasons, and everyone just assumed he would be the natural choice to pitch the opener and again later in the series.
But La Russa had a reason for his decision, siding with experience in Lohse and keeping Garcia for a start in Game 3 Tuesday at Busch Stadium, where he is much more comfortable and has had a lot more success.
And after winning Game 2 to even the series, the Cardinals now appear to have the Phillies right where they want them. Garcia, owner of a 2-0 record and a 0.96 ERA in 28 career innings against Philadelphia, will start in his comfortable environment of Busch Stadium with a chance to put the Cardinals up 2-1 in the best-of-five series.
"We've been pitching in very big games for five weeks," Garcia said after an optional workout at Busch Stadium on Monday. "For us, it's been the playoffs the last month and a half.
"So I think that I've been ... feeling really good, mentally, and I'm just real excited to be here. I'm ready to go. I'm just going to try to go out there and have some fun."
Garcia has had plenty of fun pitching against the Phillies the past two seasons. He's allowed just three earned runs in 28 innings over four starts. He hasn't allowed more than one earned run or five hits in any of the four starts, and has given up a total of just 17 hits.
The Cardinals are 4-0 in Garcia's starts against the Phillies the past two years, including a pair of wins this year. The lefty allowed one unearned run in eight innings in a 2-1 win May 17 at Busch Stadium, and one run on five hits in seven innings in Philadelphia barely two weeks ago, on Sept 16.
But despite owning the Phillies the past two seasons, Garcia is taking nothing for granted heading into the biggest start of his young career.
"Obviously they have a really good lineup," Garcia said. "I think they were the best team in baseball this year, the most wins in baseball, so they've got a really good team and really good lineup.
"But what's in the past is in the past. I'm going to take what I can from those games when I faced them before, but I'm just going to try to get ready physically and mentally for (Tuesday) and see what happens."
As to be expected because of the overall success, Garcia has some ridiculous individual numbers against most of the Philllies hitters. Lefty Ryan Howard is just 2-for-12 with six strikeouts against Garcia. Hunter Pence is 3-for-15, Placido Polanco is 2-for-11 and Jimmy Rollins is 1-for-11.
Shane Victorino (2-for-9), Chase Utley (0-for-6) and Carlos Ruiz (0-for-3) also have struggled against Garcia. The only player to have any success against him is reserve outfielder John Mayberry Jr., who is expected to get the start in left in place of Raul Ibanez because of Mayberry's 3-for-6 mark against Garcia.
The expected starting lineup against Garcia on Tuesday afternoon is a combined 13-for-73 (.178) in their careers against the lefty.
"He has good command and he uses all of his pitches," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Garcia.
"He's really kept his composure and his cool, and he's made good pitches against us. And what we've got to do, we've got to take what he gives us. There again, that's what makes the Cardinals such a good hitting team — they take what the pitcher is giving them, and that's what we've got to do to Garcia."
Garcia was 13-7 with a 3.56 ERA in 32 starts during the regular season. But he was 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA at Busch Stadium compared to 4-3 with a 4.61 ERA on the road.
The Cardinals hope the lopsided trends continue in their favor Tuesday, when Garcia could pitch them one game closer to a rather large upset in the first round.
"He's got excellent array of pitches, they all have life, and if he commands them, he can get good hitters out," said La Russa. "He has the weapons to pitch really well against anybody, rights or lefts.
"He's pitched well against a lot of clubs, and he will pitch good his whole career against a lot of clubs if he keeps his good stuff and commands it."
Tue., October 4: vs. PHILLIES: LHP Jaime Garcia (13-7, 3.56) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (14-9, 2.79) 4:07 P.M. CDT (TBS, ESPN Radio, KMOX).
VIDEO FROM FOXSPORTSMIDWEST.COM
Jaime Garcia and skipper Tony La Russa expect Tuesday's game against the Phillies to be close.
Full transcript of La Russa's Monday remarks (from MLB and ASAP Sports)
Q. A week ago Jaime pitched a very big game for you guys; down the stretch you could argue quite a few big games. What will that experience do for him tomorrow? Will that help him, and in what way?
TONY LA RUSSA: I believe that every time you have a real pressure challenging situation, it feeds into your experience. Go back to opening his opening start last year, pitched against Gallardo, their ace, and he pitched a one or two hitter. That tells you all you need to know about what he's capable of doing. And since then he's pitched a lot of great games. He's still a young guy learning. Once in a while he pitches a little young and most of the time he pitches like he's got everything in control. It'll be fun to watch him.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your offensive approach, and specifically last night and how you grinded out at bats and got some good pitches to hit and executed and how that sort of meshes with what Mark (McGwire) has been preaching to the hitters, and is that sort of emblematic of what you guys are trying to do?
TONY LA RUSSA: Bottom line is you just try to take your most competitive at bat by everybody, every at bat during the game. That's probably your only real chance against especially an outstanding starting pitcher.
I told somebody out there a little while ago, when you've got a great competitor against you, one thing you've got, if their guys are competing in a great way, sometimes you break through. You try to find what's your best at bat, and I think the biggest mistake that we try to avoid is thinking it's going to take you four or five pitches to have a great at bat. As soon as the other guy identifies that you're up there being very passive, they throw strike one and then you never see another good strike. So we try to be aggressive with real good plate discipline. And if you do both those things, the pitcher gets to be a little bit more concerned about throwing the ball down the middle. Sometimes he throws behind, sometimes you foul balls off, but everybody works every at bat. And we have good hitters, so there are times we break through.
Q. Could you give me your assessment on Cole Hamels, the starter for Game 3?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, he's a legitimate fit for that rotation. In a kind of perverse way, it's fun to compete against the Phillies because you're seeing the best of -- there's nobody better, and he's a good fit for that. Especially now, he's added another wrinkle or two to what hitters have to face, so when he was before he had those, he was already really good, now he's better. So he's a handful. So we'll do exactly what we've tried to do the first two games, just eight guys compete as hard as they can. But he's got a lot of ways to get a hitter out and he's very competitive.
Q. What does a comeback like yesterday's win do for you guys, particularly for your inexperienced post season players, going into Game 3?
TONY LA RUSSA: Well, the most important thing was it created a series. I mean, we go down 0 2, I mean, as optimistic as we are, that's a big, big hole. So it just got us excited.
I think if you watch us play, even the last couple years, our young guys play a lot more experienced than their Major League age, and I really credit what's happening in our Minor League system. They have a lot of teams winning down there, and you win wherever you are, Triple A team, Double A team, they're all competitively tough. They come here and they're not intimidated by the big league lights. They play just like they've been playing, Minor Leagues, and they've been playing that way for us, giving us a big lift.
Q. Can you give us the update on Matt Holliday and what his availability will be, you hope to be, or what your plans are for him?
TONY LA RUSSA: I wish I knew. I think it's going on as we speak. I just got off the there wasn't a whole lot on the field, but I was out there and I have not been told by a trainer or any one of our doctors that there's been an outcome. But I know he's going to get checked.
What I said outside to a couple people was it's more fun to be half full than half empty, but in this case it's a little tougher to be optimistic because he did feel significant pain with his one at bat. So we're just kind of crossing our fingers, and I hope it's good news, but I don't know.
Q. Do you put much stock in home field advantage for the next two games?
TONY LA RUSSA: A little bit, yeah. I do, because it's going to be every bit as loud and passionate as it was in Philadelphia. They're very similar fans. Ours are probably a little more patient than Jack Buck used to say that a lot about the Midwest. They're with you, win or lose, a lot of other places win or tie. But if you check our record, we had the same record on the road and at home, and if you check the Phillies' record they played tough everywhere. It's more fun to play here, you get a little edge, but it's not anything they can't overcome, and it's not anything for us to take for granted.
Q. Talk about Albert (Pujols) a little bit last night. The people don't get to see him day in and day out and just know him for his home runs, RBIs, average. Even with the bad heel last night staying in that run down, talk about his smarts baseball wise?
TONY LA RUSSA: The way I like to explain Albert is people call him a great player, I call him a great player, and then what does that mean. And if you just watch the game enough, you'll see him show his greatness, and a lot of it is the way he swings the bat, but if you watch him play defense, he knows all the time what the score is. That's why he makes these aggressive plays sometimes throwing out guys, trying to bunt a guy over to third or making a play at the plate. On the bases, he's an excellent base runner, and he runs the bases according to the scoreboard.
But the other sign that we saw last night is what he's demonstrated forever, and that is his toughness, pain tolerance, as good as anybody I've ever seen. Adrenaline pumps and he'll grind out an extra base or he'll stay in that, and then he relaxes and he feels the pain. One year here he hit .320, .330, and he had that trouble with his elbow, couldn't hardly swing. He's a great player the way he plays, but he's also got terrific toughness.
Full transcript of Garcia's Monday remarks
Q. Obviously you pitched a very big game a week ago today in Houston. How does that experience or will that experience help you tomorrow? And if it does help you, in what way?
JAIME GARCIA: Well, we've been pitching in very big games for five weeks; for us it's been playoffs the last month and a half. So I think that I've been physically feeling really good, mentally, and I'm real excited to be here. I'm ready to go. Just going to try to go out there and have some fun tomorrow.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about, you have a recent history with the Phillies, and I don't know if that's good, bad or indifferent, having faced them less than three weeks ago, but sort of the pitfalls and challenges of facing that lineup?
JAIME GARCIA: Yeah, obviously they have a really good lineup. I think it was the best team in baseball this year, the most wins in baseball, so they've got a really good team, really good lineup. But what's in the past is in the past. I'm going to take what I can from those games when I faced them before. But I'm going to I'm just going to try to get ready physically and mentally for tomorrow and see what happens, try to give us a chance to win.
Q. Your stats home and away are drastically different. Could you talk about that, maybe the comfort level of pitching here in St. Louis?
JAIME GARCIA: You know, this year has been a little -- it's only my second full year in the Big Leagues. Obviously I like pitching at home because the crowd or whatever you want to say. I don't know. I don't really see any big difference personally. But I feel like I've said this before, that this year the bad games I had a lot of not very good games on the road, it happened to happen on the road. But I just the way I see it is that it doesn't matter if I pitch at home or on the road, I've just got to get ready for that, and that's all I can basically think about.
Q. You've been really good against lefties, and then you had that small stretch where you struggled against lefties and then you sort of went back to normal. How big is that going to be with all the lefties that they have, that you have kind of figured out whatever was going on there?
JAIME GARCIA: Well, obviously every time I'm pitching, I try to get everybody out, lefties or righties. That's my job, starting pitcher. But like I said, they've got a really good lineup, really tough lefties, but I feel really good about myself, too, where I am right now physically, and I'm just going to go out there and figure out whatever I need to do to give us a better chance to win the ballgame.
Q. What's the carryover from last night's win for the team, do you think? What was the plane ride like? And what do you take from a game like that where you're down early against one of the game's real good pitchers and you just keep chipping away and the bullpen does what it does?
JAIME GARCIA: Yeah, it was really surprising for us because, you said it, one of the best pitchers in the game right now. But that's something that we've been doing for the last five, six weeks. We've been battling every single game, and we never give up. We never stop trying and giving 100 percent, and that's the great thing about those guys, my teammates. They're awesome, and I'm so grateful to be around those guys, and I know they're going to try to do the same thing tomorrow. They're going to go out there and try to do their job the best they can, and I'm going to try to do my job, too. But it was definitely really exciting to get that win last night, and to be home with that even series is going to be gives you that extra excitement.
Q. Mentally how does that change things for you going in with the series even as opposed to being down 2-0 coming back here?
JAIME GARCIA: You know what, I try not to think about those things. All I try to focus is on getting ready for the game, don't matter if we're down or up or even. But obviously having a chance instead of being 0 2 down in the series, then even, gives you a little breather. But for me personally, it's the same thing. I'm going to go out there and just do what I've been doing all year and just concentrate on what I can control, and that's it, try not to leave any other things in my head and just focus on my thing.
Q. What does this start mean to you given all that you've come through, through the minors, from high school? And also, Tony said earlier that you're a guy that probably cares too much, and I was going to see if you could shed some light on that.
JAIME GARCIA: Yeah, it's really exciting because like you said, I've been through a lot of stuff. But it's just helped me to get a little tougher, stronger mentally. I really care about my job, and I try to prepare myself as best I can physically, mentally, and try to do every time I get a chance to pitch and go out there, just try to do my best. But it's a learning process. Sometimes this is only my second year, like I said, second full season in the Big Leagues, and I'm learning a lot of things this year. You learn your body and stuff that works for you and don't. But I get paid to do this, and this is the thing that I love to do, and I'm going to keep doing it with trying to give 100 percent as long as I get a chance to play this game.
Q. With the Cardinals' lineup, how confident are you that you'll get run support, and what do you expect going in?
JAIME GARCIA: Oh, yeah, we've been doing a great job hitting lately. But like I said before, I'm going to go out there and just focus on my thing. I know we're going to score some runs because we've got a great lineup for us, but I've still got to go out there and do my job. If we score some runs and I don't do my job, it's going to be hard. I've got to try to go as deep as I can and keep us in the ballgame and try not to worry about any other distractions.
Q. What's the impact of going a week without having a week between your starts here? Is there something you sort of have to be conscious of or weary of after having so much time off?
JAIME GARCIA: You know what, I battled in the past during the season, and it's something like I always answer that question the same thing, just worry about tomorrow, and what's in the past is in the past. I've just got to get ready for tomorrow and try to get all the distractions out of my head, and that's the way I see it, and I'm going to think that way tomorrow.
Q. You talked about kind of being already in playoff mode just because of the way you guys had to fight over the last month, but taking them out of your post season start after being around them for the first couple games, do you feel like you know what to expect when you head out there tomorrow?
JAIME GARCIA: Yeah, because it's the same ballgame, nothing changes. It's the same baseball. To me it's the same hitters, a little more I want to say a little more exciting because obviously it's the playoffs. But to me it's the same thing, same preparation, same stuff I've got to do to go out there and worry about the things I've been worrying about the whole year. One of the biggest things I've learned in this game is you've got to keep it as simple as possible as you can, so that's what I'm going to try to do tomorrow.
Q. Understanding that every season has ebbs and flows, especially when you make as many starts as you do or any starting pitcher does, what happened in August? And more importantly, maybe how did you sort of right that and get dialed in again for September?
JAIME GARCIA: What happened is it's baseball. They get paid to hit, too. We pitch; they hit. So sometimes it goes our way; sometimes it goes their way. But the way I see it is that you always learn from the mistakes, from the bad outings, too. I feel you learn more from those games than the good ones. I never stopped caring, and I've always kept working really hard and trying to bounce back. I feel like I pitched a couple good games when we really needed them to keep us in there. But basically to answer your question, it's part of baseball, and like I said before, it's only my second year in the Big Leagues.
Q. Any advantage to having faced this Phillies' lineup so recently, just having gone up against them a couple weeks ago?
JAIME GARCIA: Advantage? Not really. I don't see it that way. Like I said before, they've got a really good lineup, a lot of really good hitters, a lot of experience, and I don't see any advantage or disadvantage. To me it's just go out there and try to do my job.