ATLANTA -- Luis Garcia makes no secret about his superstitions, even if the Astros’ rookie starter sounds a bit sheepish about it. If he’s on a roll, he’ll wear the same shirt to the stadium. If he gets a win, he wants to keep the same shoes for next time.
“I think I'm very superstitious,” he said Thursday afternoon at Truist Park. “Sometimes it's bad, but it happens.”
As he readies for his first Fall Classic appearance, a Game 3 start against the Braves in what is currently a 1-1 Series, he has every reason to want to duplicate his last outing. It wasn’t just about his 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the American League Championship Series Game 6 win over the Red Sox that sent Houston back to the World Series. It wasn’t even just about holding Boston hitless that night until his 20th and final batter, tying Brandon Backe for the longest hitless bid in the postseason by an Astros starter. It’s also about how he threw.
His fastball velocity, which averaged 90.9 mph between his four-seamer and cutter in the regular season, jumped to 93.4 mph. His four-seamer averaged 96 mph and reached 97 eight times, topping out at 97.8, according to Statcast. He hit 97 only once in the regular season, back in July.
Moreover, it was velo for more than show. While Garcia’s four-seamer drew five swings and misses and nine called strikes, Red Sox hitters whiffed on 12 of their 13 swings against Garcia’s cutter. The only connection was a foul ball.
“More than 97, you hope it's well-located 90-something,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said Thursday, “because 97 walking people and not throwing strikes is no good. But he had 97, 96 in the strike zone. So I'm just hoping that he's found his rhythm to stay in the strike zone.”
With those results, it’s hard to blame Garcia for wanting to replicate whatever habit he can from last start to find that rhythm and summon those fastballs again. If he can do it against Atlanta, which enters Game 3 batting .158 with a 23.3 percent strikeout rate against pitches 97 mph and faster this postseason, he has the chance to quiet a hostile crowd and give the Astros a chance to swipe a road game and take back home-field advantage for the Series.
Like last start, Garcia will be pitching on extra rest, albeit six days instead of five. It’s an extra day, but more time to tend to his right knee, soreness to which had forced him out of his Game 2 start in the ALCS.
The better the knee, the better Garcia can push off the pitching rubber, and the easier he can create velocity while preserving command. That’s not superstition, and the fact that he believes he can summon that velocity again is not just naïve confidence.
“I think I took a lot of things about that recovery,” he said, “and take it with me in this period of time, like to get ready for the next game.”
Unlike those ALCS starts, or any start this postseason, Garcia will have to worry about hitting in a National League park. He went 0-for-6 with a strikeout this season.