Well-rested Garcia has itch to clinch

Well-rested Garcia has itch to clinch

HOUSTON -- If Jon Garland hands him some nails, Freddy Garcia will be more than qualified to hammer them into place.

The Chicago White Sox designated "closer" will take the Minute Maid Park mound in Wednesday night's Game 4. Garcia doesn't close games; he closes pennant races and postseason series.

Garland started Game 3 on Tuesday night and, while he was long gone by the time the record-laden 14-inning affair had ended, he helped to set the stage for Garcia to play closer again, this time in the World Series.

With the White Sox holding a 3-0 Series lead, Garcia will be leaning on the pedal. Their near-death experience in the American League Central race has taught all of the White Sox to never let up.

"We learned that we've got to go to the ballpark and play hard every night," Garcia said before Game 3. "If we continue playing the way we have been for two more nights, I think we've got a chance."

Garcia started Chicago's AL Central clincher, on Sept, 29. He also finished off the three-game AL Division Series sweep of Boston, on Oct. 7.

Now here's the cautionary note: He has taken only one other turn in that entire four-week span, when he tamed the Angels in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series, on Oct. 15 on seven days' rest.

He will face the Astros following 10 days of inactivity. The back-to-back irregular starts could mess up a seven-year veteran accustomed to a routine.

As Garcia said at the outset of the playoffs, when being slotted fourth in the White Sox rotation forewarned him of working on extra rest, "I'm the kind of pitcher, I like to pitch every five days. Sometimes [more rest], that's no good for me."

The flip side is that Garcia probably benefits from the extended breaks, after a regular season in which he logged 228 innings, the second most of his career.

"Freddy, before we got him, I think he was being used too much," said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen, alluding to the 770 innings Garcia had logged in his last 3 1/2 seasons in Seattle prior to being acquired in June 2004.

"He had a tendency to go down late in the season. I think he's stronger now because he's well-rested and he's ready to go."

What he'll be ready to give, however, can't be known until Garcia actually takes the mound. Perhaps more so than with any other Chicago starter, he can be untouchable, or show up with an empty tank.

Thirteen times this season, he went seven-plus innings and allowed two runs or fewer. But six other times, he lasted less than six and gave up five or more. That's a pretty healthy spread.

Garcia promised to be on his best behavior, mindful of the dangers posed both by Minute Maid Park and its resident lineup, but also of the opportunity to face his original organization.

"I don't think about the left-field line," Garcia said, referring to the short porch there. "The hitters still have to hit the ball.

"You've got to be careful with [Lance] Berkman and [Morgan] Ensberg ... guys with a lot of power. And [Willy] Taveras, you can't let him get on base. But I'll pitch the way I have been pitching. I don't want to change my style."

The Astros, always extremely proactive in scouting Latin America, signed Garcia as a 17-year-old out of Venezuela in 1993. He never reached Houston, but did reach top prospect status in its organization by 1998, when he was a key component of the trade package that brought Randy Johnson to Texas.

The next year, Garcia broke in as a 17-game winner with the Mariners.

"I appreciate everything that the Houston organization did for me. Good coaching, a lot of advice," said Garcia, who will try to express those thanks Wednesday night the only way he can, although it may not be in a way the Astros want to see.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.