World Series: Jaime Garcia Tries to Follow in Fernando Valenzuela's Footsteps
Jaime García was just a little over three months old when Fernando Valenzuela led the National League with 21 wins for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1986.
So on Thursday night, when the left hurler takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series, becoming the first Mexican pitcher in 30 years to start a game in the Fall Classic, he will try to conjure up the same 'Fernandomania' craze in Mexico and the United States that his countryman did when he got the ball on Oct. 23, 1981 in Game 3 against the New York Yankees.
García was unaware during Tuesday’s media day session that Valenzuela’s complete game effort that resulted in a victory for the Dodgers – and a World Championship five days later – was the last time a Mexican had started on baseball's biggest stage.
“Well, obviously that's really exciting. Really feel very proud because of that,” said García on Wednesday afternoon during the pregame media session with reporters. “I'm thrilled to hear that, and I'm going to go out there and represent the team, my family and not only my hometown but the whole country of Mexico.
"I know they've been really good, watching me the whole year in these playoffs, and I'm really proud of that," he added.
The 2011 season was García’s second full season as the team’s starter after missing the 2009 season due to the Tommy John surgery. He made his Major League debut the previous season, appearing in 10 games mostly out of the bullpen. He bounced back last year and won the starter’s job in spring training, posting a 13-8 record with a 2.70 ERA in his 28 starts. He followed that up with a 13-7 record with a 3.56 ERA in 34 starts this past season.
That was enough for Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals' manager, to have faith in his young pitcher, especially after his ballclub seized the series opener, beating the Texas Rangers 3-2 Wednesday night.
“In the two years he's been with us, not only is he a very talented pitcher, but he's pitched very well,” LaRussa said. "You have to remember that he is young, and there are times when he has an issue that he's learning how to make the adjustments; two or three years from now, he's going to get better and better.”
This summer the Cardinals locked up García up with a four-year, $27.5 million contract, plus club options for 2016 and 2017.
The Cardinals have gotten their money's worth thus far. García could have had even more wins had his bullpen not given up a few of his leads. Down the stretch he was strong, too, winning three of his five starts in September as the Cardinals passed the Atlanta Braves for the NL Wild Card in dramatic fashion.
He took a step back in the playoffs, though. In his NLDS start against Philadelphia, García allowed three runs in seven innings as the Cardinals came up short in a 3-2 Game 3 loss. The NLCS Game 1 start did not go his way, either, as the Brewers battered him for six runs, including two home runs, over four innings in a 9-6 loss.
He recovered a bit in Game 5, allowing only one run and seven hits, but was out of the game after 4 2/3 innings; the Cardinals won the game, 7-1.
García said that he’s looking to go deeper in the game Thursday night. Despite his rocky postseason, he believes he has improved over the last month.
“Well, first of all, I try to take any post-season start just as any other regular game during the season. You know, just go out there and don't put too much pressure on yourself and...focus on what you can control,” García said. "That's it.
“But to be honest with you, the last month of the year is the best I've felt all year because I learned a lot," he added. "Obviously, a little tired physically, but I was able to make some adjustments on some stuff that I was working on all year. And the last three starts I've made in the postseason, with the exception of the one I made in Milwaukee, I felt pretty good. I've been feeling good physically, good mentally.”
García, of course, has a long way to go before drawing comparisons to Valenzuela – the Mexican legend won 173 games over 15 Major League season, 11 of them in Southern California. But the 25-year-old kid from Reynosa, Mexico, can probably expect the same type of support – from south of the border, St. Louis and beyond – that "El Toro," with his trademark delivery of looking skyward, received on that October night three decades ago.
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.
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