Garcia nearly perfect in finale win

Garcia nearly perfect in finale win

ANAHEIM -- During the course of the past 10 days, both White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and pitching Don Cooper have been talking with great enthusiasm and excitement concerning the amazing run being put together by their rejuvenated starting rotation.

The 2.39 ERA and .230 opponents' average against provided evidence to support their theory over the past nine games entering Wednesday afternoon. But it was Freddy Garcia who came up with the exclamation point at the end of Guillen and Cooper's highly-optimistic sentence during a 9-0 shellacking of the Angels in the series finale.

Garcia (14-9) finished a nearly perfect day's work against the Angels (78-68), but not perfect in the sense of doing enough to help his team win an all-important contest and close their deficit to 1 1/2 games behind the Twins (85-60) in the hard-fought American League Wild Card race. For 7 2/3 innings, Garcia literally was perfect.

No runs. No hits. No errors. No walks. If you were an Angels hitter, there was little opportunity to break through against the razor-sharp right-hander.

Unfortunately for Garcia, Adam Kennedy took advantage of the one allotted opportunity. The Angels second baseman lined a 3-2 changeup into center field, preventing Garcia from becoming the 15th pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. It also would have been the White Sox second perfect game, joining Charles Robertson (April 30, 1922 against Detroit).

Kennedy's shot back up the middle, on Garcia's 100th pitch, also put an end to a bid for the 16th no-hitter in franchise history and the first White Sox no-hitter since Wilson Alvarez finished the job against the Orioles on Aug. 11, 1991. Garcia combined with reliever Neal Cotts for the White Sox 62nd one-hitter, somehow making a nine-run victory a bit disappointing.

And how did Garcia react to Kennedy's success? He briefly pounded his fist into the glove on the mound as he watched the ball drop in front of center fielder Brian Anderson, but in the clubhouse afterward, it was a reaction befitting the laid-back hurler.

"I was, 'The no-hitter is gone, so I've got to go make my pitches to the next hitter and get out of the inning,'" said Garcia, who retired Kendry Morales on a fly ball to center to end the eighth, after shortstop Juan Uribe offered a few words of consolation at the mound. "That's what I did.

"Who doesn't want to throw a no-hitter? I gave up a hit and that was it. We scored a lot of runs, so that's what we need."

The fateful eighth opened with Garcia striking out Garret Anderson swinging, on a split-finger that even Garcia had to admit afterward was one of his best pitches of the day. Garcia finished with only three strikeouts, but had the Angels offense consistently off stride.

Juan Rivera followed with a routine grounder to Uribe, setting the stage for Kennedy. Garcia was not about to try to protect the perfect game by giving into Kennedy and throwing a fastball following a 2-2 splitter just missing the zone. Kennedy didn't expect that fastball situation to play out either, but Garcia had no regrets over the choice of the changeup.

"I threw the right pitch. That's what I want, and that's what [catcher] Sandy [Alomar Jr.] called," said Garcia. "We were on the same page all day long. It was a good pitch and there was nothing I could do about it."

"He has a history of throwing well against us," added Kennedy of Garcia. "He mixes his pitches up well, and he was fortunate enough to pitch with a decent-sized lead, which makes a good pitcher even better."

Offensive support behind Garcia was plentiful Wednesday, compared to a total of three runs in the fifth inning during each of the series' first two contests. Paul Konerko led the attack with four hits and two RBIs, while Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome drove in two runs apiece. Every starter but Pablo Ozuna had at least one hit.

Joe Crede doubled home a run in the second, and the White Sox added run-scoring hits from Tadahito Iguchi and Thome in the third. A four-run fourth chased Angels starter Joe Saunders (5-3), and all that was left in the contest was to watch and wait Garcia's bid for perfection.

"This was exciting, especially when we need it the most to give some people some confidence," said Guillen of his close friend and hurler.

"I was just hoping, knowing Freddy with the score, he wasn't like, 'The heck with it. Let me throw some balls over the middle of the plate,'" Konerko added. "We wanted him to go for it, and he was."

Only one other Angels hitter beside Kennedy worked the count to three balls, but Garcia retired Vladimir Guerrero on a ground ball to Uribe on a 3-1 count in the seventh. The only other true situation coming close to a hit took place leading off the sixth, when Morales hit a short fly ball to center field. Uribe moved back on the ball and Anderson moved in quickly, before Anderson made the catch.

Garcia threw a one-hitter on Aug. 13, 2005, at the Metrodome but lost a 1-0 decision when Jacque Jones broke up the no-hitter with a home run leading off the eighth. The Angels fans gave Garcia a standing ovation when the eighth ended Wednesday, and Garcia acknowledged the crowd with a wave.

There was no fist pump or any sign of bravado on Garcia's part. Just an understated response, following a workmanlike masterpiece that was more impressive for Garcia because of the final result and not his brush with greatness.

"You can throw one hit, lose the game, and the next day you're the losing pitcher," said Garcia, who improved to 14-3 lifetime against the Angels. "Today's, it's different. Tomorrow, I'll be the winning pitcher. It's all about winning."

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