Garcia's had practice in big spots for Cards
Handed Game 3 start, left-hander can guide club to NLDS lead
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia couldn't tell you for certain what it's like to pitch in a playoff game, though the Cardinals' starter for Game 3 of the National League Division Series does know what it's like to pitch in a playoff-like atmosphere.
"Well, we've been pitching in very big games for five weeks," Garcia said Monday. "For us, it's been playoffs the last month and a half."
Garcia went 3-0 with a 2.64 ERA in five starts in September, doing his part to help these Cardinals -- who finished the regular season on a 23-9 push -- qualify for the playoffs and the right to face the Phillies.
The calendar has turned to October, but Garcia said he hopes to carry his confidence and that success of September into Game 3 at 4 p.m. CT on Tuesday at Busch Stadium, live on TBS, in the series that's tied after two games.
- 2011 Regular Season
- Overall: 31 GS, 14-9, 2.79 ERA, 44 BB, 194 K.
- Overall: 32 GS, 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 50 BB, 156 K.
- Key stat: 0.986 WHIP.
- Key stat: 1.320 WHIP.
- At Busch Stadium
- 2011: 0 GS, 0-0, 0.00. Career: 5 GS, 1-1, 3.00.
- 2011: 15 GS, 9-4, 2.55. Career: 30 GS, 16-9, 2.37.
- Against this opponent
- 2011: 1 GS, 0-1, 5.14. Career: 9 GS, 2-3, 3.27.
- 2011: 2 GS, 0-0, 0.60. Career: 4 GS, 2-1, 1.20.
- Loves to face.: Rafael Furcal, 4-for-23. Hates to face: Ryan Theriot, 7- for-21.
- Loves to face: Chase Utley, 0-for-6. Hates to face: John Mayberry Jr., 3-for-6.
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Pitched shutout in Game 3 of '10 NLDS.
- Why he'll win: ERA is more than two runs better at home.
- Pitcher beware: 3.79 ERA in six games in September.
- Pitcher beware: Postseason debut.
- Bottom line: Coming off best regular season.
- Bottom line: Gives the Phillies fits.
"He's pitched a lot of great games. He's still a young guy learning," La Russa said. "Once in a while, he pitches a little young, but most of the time, he pitches like he's got everything in control. It'll be fun to watch him.
"I believe that every time you have a real pressure challenging situation, it feeds into your experience."
Garcia certainly has had his share of experience with the Phillies.
Heading into Tuesday's start, the left-hander is 2-1 with a 1.20 ERA in six career games against Philadelphia, with a microscopic 0.60 ERA in two starts against them this season, yielding one run in 15 innings.
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard is 2-for-12 lifetime against Garcia, with one home run. Hunter Pence is a career .200 hitter against him, with a home run. Jimmy Rollins has one hit in 11 at-bats, while Chase Utley (0-for-6) and Shane Victorino (2-for-9) have struggled as well.
And consider this: The last time Garcia faced the Phillies, he allowed one run in seven innings in a no-decision on Sept. 16.
"He has good command, and he uses all of his pitches, and he keeps his cool against us," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's really kept his composure and his cool, and he's made good pitches against us."
So how do you beat Garcia, who is 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 15 starts at home, with two complete games?
"We have got to make sure we get good balls hit, but at the same time don't try to do a whole lot and try to jerk him and see how far we can hit him," Manuel said. "Just try to make solid contact on him and kind of go with the pitches and everything."
The Cardinals have been so impressed with the soft-spoken Garcia that they rewarded him in July with a four-year contract extension worth $27 million, a deal that includes options that could keep him in St. Louis through 2017.
That is a significant investment in a pitcher who is still getting his feet wet in terms of pitching at the Major League level. But the Cardinals have liked what they've seen of Garcia and his makeup in his short stay at this level -- how he works his way through the order, how he pitches to both sides of the plate, how he changes speed and how he competes.
Regular season or postseason, Garcia is ready to tackle Game 3 like he has every other challenge that's been placed in front of him.
"It's the same baseball. 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," Garcia said.
"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."