Garcia silences Giants as Cardinals roll

Garcia silences Giants as Cardinals roll

ST. LOUIS -- If there were any doubts that Jaime Garcia's superb rookie season was a mirage or a fluke, he blew them away Sunday like a Giants hitter on a two-strike count.

Garcia faced just one over the minimum in a three-hit shutout as the Cardinals took down the Giants, 9-0, taking two of three games from their Wild Card competition and beating two Cy Young Award winners along the way.

Garcia put it all together. Control, efficiency, electric stuff. Garcia has flashed all three this season, but never together in one package like he did Sunday.

The rookie southpaw punched out six, didn't walk a batter and controlled the Giants offense like a young Barry Zito, his counterpart on the mound. The only blemishes against Garcia came on two singles from Pat Burrell to lead off the second and fifth -- in both instances Jose Guillen bounced into double plays one batter later -- and a Nate Schierholtz single with one out to go in the ninth that just squeaked by second baseman Aaron Miles glove.

The win moved the Cardinals within three games of the Reds for the National League Central lead and 1 1/2 back of the Phillies in the NL Wild Card.

It unequivocally ranks as the finest start of the rookie's young career.

"I think this is the greatest day of my baseball career," Garcia said.

It was the first time Garcia has gone past seven innings this season and the 89 pitches ranked as the lowest pitch count in a complete game by a Cardinal since Bob Tewksbury needed just 86 to finish a game in 1992.

He got ahead of hitters often -- 65 of the 89 pitches went for strikes -- and put them away quickly. Garcia stayed away from the middle of the plate, and his movement generated 15 groundouts.

"His stuff is explosive," shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "He runs the ball inside, it has got some pretty good run in there. I just think about that strikeout on Posey. That guy can hit, and making him look bad like that, that was pretty impressive. He was fun to be behind."

"They are an aggressive swinging club and that makes them dangerous, but if you can make really good pitches you can get some quicker outs than normal," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa added.

So what was Garcia thinking on the mound with a potential shutout on the line and having faced just the minimum through 8 2/3 innings? In the true Cardinals fashion -- read: influence of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and pitching coach Dave Duncan -- he was just thinking of the next pitch.

"I am trying not to think about it. Am I going to go a complete game? What is the pitching count? That will get you out of the game," Garcia said. "That is one of the things I have been learning this year. Don't worry about what is in the past and what is coming, just focus on the next pitch you are going to make and that's it."

Garcia certainly didn't have to think about run support. The Cardinals offense provided him plenty.

Seven different players scored for the Cardinals Sunday and all nine starters hit safely.

The Cardinals got three runs in the third inning off Zito after Albert Pujols drove in Ryan, Matt Holliday scored Jon Jay and a sacrifice fly from Felipe Lopez brought home Pujols. Two more runs in the fourth drove Zito from the game after just 3 2/3 innings pitched. It was the shortest outing of the season for the left-handed veteran.

The offense didn't stop there, piling on three more runs one inning later in Guillermo Mota's one inning pitched. Garcia got into the action, blooping a single to left field with two outs to keep the inning alive, before Jay drove him in. Lopez scored in the eighth to cap the scoring for the Redbirds.

All told, the St. Louis offense put together 15 hits, seven of them with two outs. Four different players reached base three times in the game. It was the first time the Cardinals scored nine runs in 16 games.

"A couple of them were decent pitches, but for the most part fastballs over the middle," Zito said. "The 0-2 curveball to Holliday needed to be bounced. There's no excuse for leaving an 0-2 pitch up like that. I was having a hard time getting my stuff down today. It was tough out there."

Michael Bleach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.