Cards tab talented young Garcia for Game 1

Cards tab talented young Garcia for Game 1

MILWAUKEE -- Chris Carpenter raised the bar with his three-hit shutout in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

On Sunday afternoon, Jaime Garcia will look to continue the momentum for the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NL Championship Series.

Carpenter's close-out performance will be a tough act to follow, but the Cards are simply looking for Garcia to be himself when he takes the mound against the Brewers at Miller Park.

"Sometimes it's hard to remember this is just his second year as a starter," manager Tony La Russa said of the 25-year-old lefty. "Because in his rookie year, and again this year, there's been so many times, like the playoffs start against Philly, you look at him and you think you're looking at a guy that's been in the Major Leagues as a starter with that responsibility for years."

Tale of the Tape: Game 1
2011 Regular Season
Overall: 32 GS, 13-7, 3.56 ERA, 50 BB, 156 K
Overall: 28 GS, 16-10, 3.83 ERA, 45 BB, 201 K
Key stat: 2 shutouts (tied 2nd most in MLB)
Key stat: 10.5 strikeouts per 9 IP (1st in MLB, among qualified starters)
At Miller Park
2011: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA
Career: 3 GS, 1-1, 6.60 ERA
2011: 15 GS, 11-0, 3.13 ERA
Career: 16 GS, 11-0, 3.26 ERA
Against this opponent
2011: 2 GS, 1-0, 1.93 ERA
Career: 7 GS, 3-2, 3.27 ERA
2011: 3 GS, 2-1, 3.15 ERA
Career: 7 GS, 5-3, 3.75 ERA
Loves to face: Jerry Hairston, 2-for-11
Hates to face: Corey Hart, 8-for-20
Loves to face: Nick Punto, 4-for-19
Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 5-for-12
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Tossed seven strong innings in NLDS Game 3 against Phillies
Why he'll win:
Brewers went 16-0 in his home starts (including NLDS)
Pitcher beware: Had 4.61 road ERA during regular season; 2.55 at home
Pitcher beware: Struggled in Game 2 of NLDS, allowing four runs over five innings
Bottom line: Keep riding momentum
Bottom line: Home, sweet home

The so-called "sophomore slump" didn't apply to Garcia, who posted a 13-7 record with a 3.56 ERA in 32 starts.

The left-hander also is big-game battle tested. In Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Phillies, Garcia suffered a tough-luck loss. He threw six scoreless innings before surrendering a pinch-hit three-run homer to Ben Francisco. The shot was the difference, but Garcia's performance otherwise was encouraging.

The challenge picks up in the NLCS against the Brewers, who paced the NL with 185 homers. Of their leading total, 102 were at Miller Park. Of Prince Fielder's 38 homers, 24 were in Milwaukee.

The Brewers went 57-24 at Miller Park, boasting the best home record in the big leagues. They also won all three of their home NLDS games.

Why have opponents had such a tough time winning in Milwaukee?

"I don't know," Garcia said. "They like playing at home. They like hitting at home. They feel comfortable here, I'm guessing the hitters [do]. And the pitchers, too, the pitchers pitch really good.

"I think we've got a lot of guys on our team that like pitching at home and playing at home. So I'm guessing that has something to do with that."

Garcia made one start this season at Miller Park, and he gave up seven runs (three earned) in five innings in a no-decision. Counting his rookie 2010 season, the lefty is 1-1 in three Miller Park starts, with a 6.60 ERA -- 11 earned runs in 15 innings.

On Sunday afternoon, a packed stadium will be waving towels and raising the noise level. Garcia's objective is to drown out the noise and focus on his task.

"I don't let any distraction like that bother me," the lefty said. "I just treat it like if I was pitching in St. Louis or any other place. Just get ready. Your job is to execute pitches, and that's all you can worry about."

On Friday night, Garcia watched Carpenter deal with a hostile situation in Philadelphia. One run was all Carpenter needed to blank the Phillies at an energized Citizens Bank Park.

As a spectator and teammate, Garcia has picked up pointers from Carpenter.

"He's an awesome guy," Garcia said. "I'm really excited and fortunate to have a chance to play with him. He's a great competitor. He cares about his teammates, about his team. He goes out there and he doesn't get intimidated. He's a horse, man. He's the ace for our staff. I'm really excited and fortunate to have him around, to learn from him."

Garcia also gives praise to Adam Wainwright, who missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow.

"And we have Wainwright, another great pitcher," Garcia said. "For me, it doesn't get any better. Those guys are great pitchers, great at what they do. But other than that, they're great people, too. They've helped me so much. To me, I learn from them just watching them pitch.

"At the same time, they give me so much advice on what to expect and how to get ready and a lot of little things about the game. Like I say, I'm just so grateful to have them around and learn from them."

In terms of talent, Garcia has the ability to rise to elite status. He gets a chance to make more of a name for himself in Game 1.

"He's a very talented young man," La Russa said. "He's a terrific worker. And when he's got his delivery together, he's got a lot of ways to get hitters out. And he's still learning. He's going to get better than this. When he gets a little out of whack, you learn, 'I've got to do this or that.'"

Garcia also benefits by working with catcher Yadier Molina and pitching coach Dave Duncan.

"He's been amazing to be this effective, no matter what your stuff is, in some of the games he's pitched the first two years," La Russa said. "He's just a very special talent and competitor."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.