While being the first Venezuelan to reach 150 victories was hardly a big deal for Freddy Garcia, teammates were more than eager to heap praise on his career.
Garcia reached 150 wins in yesterday’s 6-2 victory over the Mariners and by doing so he became the first Venezuelan to reach that mark, beating the team that acquired him for Randy Johnson in 1998.
“I still have the records,” Garcia said. “For me it’s another win and hopefully more are coming.”
“It just shows you how consistent he’s been and he’s been through some arm injuries,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He’s pitched a long time. Freddy’s been a real good pitcher for a real long time.”
More will come if he continues to win battles with men on base like he did in the fifth inning when the Mariners made it a one-run game, had two on and seemed poised to score more.
Garcia did not allow it as he ended his 85-pitch day by getting rookie Kyle Seager to swing weakly at a changeup and ground it to first base. And when the bullpen completed four scoreless innings, Garcia had his milestone and the praise.
“I played with him before when he was throwing 97 [mph] and sometimes he would go through a little dead arm period. He’d still find a way to get outs throwing 88 to 91,” said Raul Ibanez, who spent parts of 1999 and 2000 as Garcia’s teammate. “I’ve seen him do it. The guy’s a gamer; he’s a competitor and he’s had to re-invent himself and had to learn how to pitch and be more deceptive and it’s really his will and determination on the mound that makes him great.
“That’s what made him great before. We know he had great stuff, but what made him great before, a lot of guys had great stuff but he had the will and determination to win.
Along with Wilson Alvarez, Garcia is one of two Venezuelans to pitch for 14 years. Alvarez won 102 games in a career that began a decade before Garcia. He pitched for the Rangers, White Sox, Rays, Giants and Dodgers.
There are five Venezuelans with at least 100 victories and Garcia leads the field by 11 victories over Johan Santana, who might have reached the mark sooner if not missing 2011 due to injury. Besides Alvarez and Santana, Carlos Zambrano and Kelvim Escobar have won at least 100.
Overall, Garcia became the 12th Latin American pitcher to reach 150 victories. That list is headed by Hall of Famer Juan Marichal and includes Pedro Martinez.
“That’s awesome,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “Obviously coming from his country to the United States, you just want to play baseball I’m sure. To be able to go out and have the success that he’s had is tremendous. It just shows what a talented player he is and his longevity. Not too many guys even get the opportunity to have that many wins, so he put himself in that position and it’s really great.”
Garcia’s road to 150 began with him as a hard-throwing pitching prospect acquired to join Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle. He was traded by the Mariners in 2004, won a World Series with a Venezuelan manager in Ozzie Guillen in Chicago and struggled through various injuries before becoming a pitcher who throws mostly in the 80s and can fool hitters with a split-fingered fastball.
In his milestone victory, Garcia allowed two runs and five hits while working around four walks. He was hardly dominant like countryman Felix Hernandez 24 hours earlier or teammate CC Sabathia on Friday, but made the key pitches when necessary.
“I was battling,” Garcia said. “Almost every inning I had two outs and then ball one, ball two. The last inning, I had a couple of guys 2-1. That’s one pitch that can change the game. If you make a mistake, that’s three or four runs in that inning. So I was able to make that pitch when I needed.”
“It’s just kind of the way he is,” Stewart added. “He’s not going to really dominate games. He’s not going to blow balls by guys. He’s going to throw around the zone and try to get them to miss-hit. If he puts guys on, he’s not afraid. We know he’s got enough pitches to get the next guy out and that’s what he did today.”
While Garcia helped himself by getting out of trouble, he had some help from someone who spent two seasons with him in Seattle. That was Raul Ibanez, who slugged his 15th home run in the fifth and added a two-run single in the sixth.
“We were able to score some runs,” Garcia said. “The bullpen was great — four innings scoreless and that’s how we do it.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.