Garcia must prove himself vs. Red Sox

BOSTON -- Freddy Garcia right now is on pace to have the second-lowest ERA of his career. The only time he has pitched better was a decade ago with Seattle when he finished with a 3.05 ERA. In 2001, he was third in Cy Young voting.

When he was known as The Chief in Seattle, he threw 95 mph as a 24-year-old. Now, as the 34-year-old Steady Freddy, he can't touch 90. Garcia's 2011 3.22 ERA is because of guile.

Generally, guile can get you to October, but not through it.

So that is why on Sunday night, with the lights a little brighter, the audience a little bigger, Garcia is not only pitching for sole possession of first place in the AL East, he potentially will be on the mound trying to secure a spot in a potential ALCS game against the Boston Red Sox.

Garcia, 0-2 with a 10.12 ERA against Boston, is on the postseason clock. If he can't show he can beat the Red Sox, or at least pitch well against them, it is hard to believe New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi will turn to him when the air is cooler.

"I have to go out there and pitch," said Garcia, whose best quality may be his veteran ability to minimize any extra thoughts. "It's that simple, man."

If the Yankees and Red Sox meet in October and CC Sabathia fails to improve upon the way he has pitched against Boston this season, it really won't matter who pitches after him.

The Yankees likely can't beat Boston with Sabathia being hammered all over the ballpark.

Sabathia has been very bad against Boston this season. He is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA after Saturday's stinker. His Cy Young chances may die at Fenway. Against the rest of the league, Sabathia is 16-2 with a 2.12 ERA.

Garcia has followed the same pattern. He is 10-5 with a 2.72 ERA in non-Boston games. Against the Red Sox, he has been smashed for, on average, more than one run per inning.
Before this season, Garcia pitched well against Boston, going 8-2 in his career. But yesteryear's stats don't really matter for Garcia.

He is a different pitcher now. He relies on mostly two types of pitches -- slower and slowest.

His average velocity is a tad beneath 82 mph, which is third-slowest in the league. His fastball average of 87 is fifth-slowest.

The Red Sox have mauled Garcia's finesse. They haven't been fooled by Garcia's five pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball, slider and splitter). He throws his fastball less than 40 percent of the time, which is fewer than nine out of every 10 AL starters.

Forget being slow and easy to identify, Boston has hit the pitches like they are standing still, which, if it happens again, would make it tough for the Yankees to call on Garcia against Boston in the playoffs.

"I'm not thinking like that," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "The postseason is 50 games away and we have to get there first so I don't think like that."

The Red Sox have hit an incredible .344 against Garcia this season.

On Sunday, working against Garcia is that he is pitching on extended rest and at night. In his three starts with six days or rest or more, he is 0-2 with a 6.39 ERA. In his other 16 starts, he is 10-5 with a 2.78 ERA. He last pitched a week ago, on Sunday. He went six innings and gave up just two runs. That was a day game.

Garcia is 5-1 with a 1.73 ERA in day games. At night, he is 5-6 with a 4.41 ERA. Game time is 8:05.

"[Sunday] is a big game," Girardi said.

The manager was talking about the battle for first. For Garcia, it could potentially mean much, much more.