SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Former Major League pitcher Freddy Garcia will end his career the same way he started it: On the mound representing Venezuela with the baseball hopes of a nation riding on his right arm.Garcia, who announced his retirement from Winter League play in Venezuela last month
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Former Major League pitcher Freddy Garcia will end his career the same way he started it: On the mound representing Venezuela with the baseball hopes of a nation riding on his right arm.
Garcia, who announced his retirement from Winter League play in Venezuela last month and has not pitched in the Major Leagues since 2013 with the Braves, will make the final start of his 21-year professional baseball career on Sunday when his Tigres de Aragua take on Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan in the Caribbean Series championship game.
"Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody," said Venezuela manager Eddie Perez, the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. "Knowing that it's his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well."
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Venezuela is seeking its first Caribbean Series title since the Tigres won in 2009 in Mexicali, Mexico. Overall, the country has won seven Caribbean Series championships.
A team from Mexico won the Caribbean Series championship in 2013 (Yaquis de Obregon) and '14 (Naranjeros de Hermosillo). Obregon also won the title in '11. Mazatlan won its first and only Caribbean Series title in 2005 in Mazatlan.
In 2014, Cuba's Villa Clara became the first team from the island to participate in the Caribbean Series since 1960, and it was eliminated in four games. Last year, the island's Pinar del Rio squad defeated Mexico for the title.
"Freddy is our guy. To me, he's the right guy at the right time," Perez said. "Freddy has pitched in situations bigger that this, better and in worse. Hopefully, he can give me four or five innings and the bullpen will be ready."
Garcia, 39, signed with the Astros as a teenager in 1993, and was traded to Seattle five years later with John Halama and Carlos Guillen -- the current president of the Tigres de Aragua -- to Seattle for Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson.
Garcia went 76-50 with a 3.89 ERA and 819 strikeouts during his six-plus seasons with the Mariners until he was traded to the White Sox in 2004, where he would go on to become a key member of Chicago's World Series-winning team in 2005. He later pitched for the Phillies, Tigers, Yankees, Orioles and Braves during his 16-year big league career. The two-time All-Star finished a 156-108 record with a 4.15 ERA and 1,621 strikeouts in 2,264 big league innings.
Garcia, who pitched 7 1/3 innings in Triple-A for the Dodgers last year, spent most of the last two seasons pitching in Taiwan, Venezuela and Mexico. The veteran allowed one run on four hits in six innings against Puerto Rico's Cangrejeros de Santurce in Venezuela's first game of the Caribbean Series on Monday.
Garcia will have plenty of help Sunday. Ten of the players on Venezuela's roster currently have Major League affiliations and there are several others with big league experience. The list includes pitchers Omar Bencomo and Marcus Walden (Twins) along with Osmer Morales (Mariners) and catcher Sandy Leon (Red Sox). Venezuela's roster also includes Major League third baseman Adonis Garcia (Braves), infielders Hernan Perez (Brewers) and Juniel Querecuto (Rays), along with outfielders Dariel Alvarez (Orioles) and Jose Martinez (Royals).
"We did a great job of picking players from all of the teams and we ended up with the best players," Perez said. "We did a good job of bringing in some relievers to the bullpen. It's doesn't matter what organization they played for, because it's all for Venezuela right now. We represent Venezuela. It's not Tigres or the Braves or San Francisco or whatever. It's all about Venezuela and they know that so they are ready for that."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.