It was a simple question. Nationals catcher Jesus Flores just wanted to know what signs rookie relief pitcher Christian Garcia wanted to use for his pitches. About a minute later Garcia, a two-time Tommy John surgery victim about to make his big league debut at age 27, realized he was still talking.
‘Hey, man, take a breath,” shortstop Ian Desmond said.
So Garcia did. And he realized that throwing from the mound at Nationals Park was no different than what he’d done so successfully all season at Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. Three quick pitches and an out later – Garcia later said he didn’t even realize the ball used for his first pitch was tossed out of play – and he was walking back to the dugout, his dream finally a reality.
“I still can’t believe it,” Garcia said. “As a kid you grow up and you’re sitting in the stands watching all those baseball players playing. You never picture yourself actually being one of those guys and now it’s reality that I’m not just sitting watching. I’m actually playing.”
Garcia has always had the talent to perform here. He was a third-round pick by the New York Yankees in 2004, after all. But the Miami native had endured three elbow surgeries, two of them to repair a torn ligament. His career appeared finished. But as tempting as it was he never gave in to that thought. In 45 minor-league games this season Garcia was 2-1 with a 0.86 ERA. Unfortunately, the Nats had one of the best bullpens in the game again this season and there was no room on the major-league roster.
“We had heard [about Garcia] as of late when we started talking about the call-ups and we start kind of getting some stats on some guys and have an idea what they’re doing,” new teammate Adam LaRoche said. “He’s got a chance this month to take a little stress of those guys and be a big part of it if he continues doing what he’s been doing down there.”
So Garcia waited his turn and now, with reliever Sean Burnett resting a sore elbow, Washington can make use of him. After the game he had dozens of texts and missed calls waiting for him on his phone. The two baseballs he used – for the first pitch and the first out – sat in his locker and will be handed over to his parents when they arrive from Miami on Wednesday. Garcia didn’t mind that they were thrown in a situation that was relatively mild – a four-run lead and a single runner on base.
“It doesn’t faze me, that kind of stuff. When you do it for so long and you’ve kind of been through the things I’ve been through there’s nothing that really can faze you,” Garcia said. “You can go out there and just have fun. At the end of the day it’s still a kid’s game. Some people put a lot of pressure on themselves and I’m not one of those guys.”
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