ST. LOUIS -- Minutes before Jaime Garcia would throw his first pitch, catcher Yadier Molina walked in from the bullpen, sensing something special was ahead.
The command in the bottom of the strike zone and pitch movement that had impressed Molina during warmups remained through Garcia's final pitch on Friday against the Braves, who had little to offer offensively against a lefty whose sinker, changeup and slider worked with ease. It was the sort of dominance not seen from Garcia since his one-hit shutout of the Brewers back in April, and every bit of it was needed for the Cardinals to cling to a 1-0 victory at Busch Stadium.
In addition to doing his job masterfully from the mound, Garcia drove in the game's only run.
"It was everything you could ask for," manager Mike Matheny said afterward.
After a five-start stretch in which Garcia finished six innings once, he breezed through eight to improve to 8-8. A double play wiped out a leadoff single in the first, and Garcia went on to keep the Braves hitless in five chances with a runner in scoring position. His fourth-inning escape act was particularly impressive, as he struck out Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp en route to slipping out of a two-on, no-out pickle.
Those were two of his 11 strikeouts, two shy of Garcia's career high. With them, he surpassed 100 strikeouts in a season for the first time since 2011.
"He was on right away with strike one," Molina said. "It's important for him to be aggressive in the strike zone. That's what he did tonight."
The Cardinals had been craving a deep start after seeing their pitchers record an out in the sixth inning one time in the previous six games. Garcia blew past that benchmark, retiring 11 in a row after a one-out, fifth-inning double by Anthony Recker.
He threw 11 or fewer pitches in six of his eight innings, a figure made even more impressive within the context of his strikeout total.
"I was able to control counts, keep the ball down. That gets you deep in the game," Garcia said. "Everything was working pretty good."
About the only thing left unfinished for Garcia was the game. Though Garcia closed the eighth with a pitch count of 89, Matheny chose to turn to closer Seung Hwan Oh in the ninth. The slim margin of error and the fact that the Braves were turning over their lineup for a fourth time triggered the decision.
"It's not an easy call," Matheny said. "I know he wants the ball. I know he deserved the ball. I just felt like we needed to go with our stopper."
Oh retired the side in order to preserve the team's seventh shutout victory.
Asked if he had hoped for the chance to finish what he started, Garcia answered, "Of course. One hundred percent."
"But also, that's not my job," he added. "My job is to make pitches until they take me out. I wanted to stay in there badly, but he made the decision to take me out, and I respect that."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.