Performer of the game: La Russa
Cardinals manager makes right move in big spot of Game 5
ST. LOUIS -- Jaime Garcia had his meltdown on Friday night. This one, however, had no presence on the mound.
Ushered off the field at the insistence of his manager with two out in the fifth inning in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, Garcia headed toward the dugout, a standing ovation appropriately joining his steps. And yet at that moment, Garcia seemed much more concerned with what he couldn't do than what he had done.
Appearing upset at Tony La Russa's early summoning of reliever Octavio Dotel -- Garcia had allowed just one run to this point -- the young Cardinals starter ignored the congratulatory gestures of his teammates as he descended into the dugout. He retreated to the corner. Alone. His expression gave away his annoyance.
Witness to plenty a Garcia meltdown, La Russa could stomach this one, being that it came in a dugout setting. He had prompted it, in fact, by opting not to risk a similar unraveling taking place on the mound, where plenty had before.
Spin to Win
"Obviously when you're pitching, you want to go as deep as you can and you want to keep us in the ballgame," said Garcia, answering in the affirmative when asked if he was surprised by the early hook. "But [La Russa] has been doing this for so long and has been so successful, and he's got his reasons. Today, it worked out really good for us. That's what matters."
Personal frustration was at least publically aside by the time the Cards had wrapped up their 7-1 win over the Brewers in Game 5. Garcia said all the right things afterward. He could because his manager had made the right move hours earlier.
Susceptible to spoiling a strong performance by serving up a big inning, Garcia was yanked before he had the chance to squander away a four-run lead in the fifth. A two-out RBI single by Corey Hart pushed across a run. Another single followed, bringing Ryan Braun to the plate as the potential tying run.
"I was ready to pitch against him," said Garcia, who had allowed a double to the NL MVP Award candidate back in the first before retiring Braun with two aboard to end the third. "I was focused in on the pitch I was going to make."
But this was the same Braun who, in Game 1 of this series, drove home two runs off Garcia in a fifth inning that ultimately spiraled out of control. By the end of that debacle, a three-run Cardinals lead had morphed into a three-run hole from which St. Louis never emerged.
Dotel was warmed up in that game, too, ready to face Braun, if asked. La Russa stuck with Garcia. The decision has been second-guessed since.
That gaffe wouldn't happen twice.
"... I'm not sure exactly what it is; maybe, it's just a long season for a young guy, but when he starts to elevate the ball and get it in the middle ... as he gets some innings in him, it's harder," La Russa said.
A move that the manager likely never would have made during the regular season -- and one that cost Garcia the chance at his first postseason win -- was, on this night, automatic.
"This is different," Cards right fielder Lance Berkman said. "This is not like the middle of August. You almost have to make that move to get a good matchup there for us, because that game could turn on one swing of the bat."
Dotel erased such a concern by winning the matchup against Braun, as the veteran reliever has done throughout his career. Dotel entered the game having struck out Braun seven times in their first nine meetings, and he added a tally to the column with another.
Dotel's setup was spot-on -- attack Braun on the outer part of the plate only -- and he got some timely assistance from home-plate umpire Bill Miller, whose strike zone turned liberal on a 1-0 pitch that, Miller's call aside, was out of the zone.
With the count even, Dotel could stay away.
"I don't want to give him anything good for him to pull it out," Dotel said. "If he pulls it out, it's going to be a tie game. He has the power. He has the swing."
After five fastballs ran the count to 2-2, Dotel delivered the sequence-ending slider. Two runners were left stranded as Braun swung through the pitch. It was the last time all night that a potential tying run would ever stand at the plate.
"I'm not uncomfortable against him, though I know he has good numbers against me," Braun said. "The best pitch I had to hit was the one I swung and missed -- a slider that backed up. It was a good pitch to hit."
Dotel, who retired three more batters the next inning, ultimately was credited with the win. And for Garcia, that turned out to be just fine.
"I don't feel like I didn't do my job," Garcia said. "My job is to go out there in the playoffs whenever I get a chance to be on the mound and make my pitches and keep us in the ballgame. I only gave up one run."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.