CINCINNATI -- As far as bookable guests, Greg Garcia was probably the most unlikely. Only those who homer get to lead the Cardinals conga line, the new dugout celebration conceived by Francisco Pena, just two days old and already a hit. The left-handed swinging Garcia had never homered off a
CINCINNATI -- As far as bookable guests, Greg Garcia was probably the most unlikely. Only those who homer get to lead the Cardinals conga line, the new dugout celebration conceived by Francisco Pena, just two days old and already a hit. The left-handed swinging Garcia had never homered off a lefty when he dug in against Reds southpaw Brandon Finnegan in the first, and never swatted multiple homers in the course of a single game. He managed just two across 133 games last season, his at-bats coming in bits and pieces.
"I don't hit many home runs, period,' Garcia said. "So you kind of remember most of them."
All of which made his afternoon Saturday at Great American Ballpark so special, if not surprising. Starting for just the second time this season, Garcia used consecutive swings to match his home run total from a year ago, earn multiple conga line invites and send St. Louis to a 6-1 win over the Reds. Garcia's career day came in support of winning pitcher Miles Mikolas, who twirled seven strong innings to put the Cardinals a win away from a sweep.
"That was really, really fun," Garcia said, after he was allowed to run a chain of teammates through the dugout two times. "It's a good thing to do. It's original and I was in on it."
Just hours before the game, Garcia spoke at his locker, somewhat torn. The 28-year-old has spent hours lately tinkering with his swing in an attempt to add more power. But as a bench player, Garcia knows most of his at-bats will come as a pinch-hitter, against hard-throwing relievers, in situations where singles do suffice. A balance must be struck approach-wise, and adjustments made.
"Sometimes, I know for me it'll be better to shorten up," Garcia said.
He didn't have to Saturday, in a rare start. Garcia pulled a solo homer off Finnegan in the second, then lined a hanging breaking ball over the wall in right for a two-run homer in the fourth. His double in the sixth gave Garcia a career high in total bases on a day Marcell Ozuna, Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez also chipped in with RBIs.
"When you aren't getting playing time, you certainly aren't getting left on left playing time," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's impressive how he stays sharp."
The same could be said for Mikolas, who became the second Cardinals pitcher in as many days to hold the Reds hitless at least a full turn through the order. Tucker Barnhart accounted for their lone tally with a solo home run in the fifth. But Mikolas was mostly spotless besides that, scattering three hits and striking out four over his best Major League start in more than three years.
Signed to a two-year, $15.5 million deal in the offseason after three seasons pitching for Nippon Professional Baseball, Mikolas sputtered a bit over his first two starts after an up-and-down spring. But he cruised from the first pitch Saturday, handing the ball off to Greg Holland after just 83 pitches, for the eighth.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Matheny planned to use Holland at some point, a night after removing him from the closer role, at least temporarily. The plan now is for Holland to work his way back into high-leverage spots while Bud Norris handles the ninth. His first chance came Saturday, when he threw a scoreless eighth in a five-run game. Holland didn't walk a batter after issuing five free passes over his first two outings.
Yadier Molina reached a defensive milestone at the end of the fifth inning, when he passed Johnny Bench for 13th on the all-time innings caught list. Molina finished the game having logged 14,494 1/3 career innings behind the dish, and next eyes former Cardinals backstop Ted Simmons on the list. He could pass Simmons by the end of the month.
"It's an honor," Molina said. "I'm just blessed that God gave me health."
"Bench is the gold standard," Matheny said. "For our generation, I think that's Yadi."
HE SAID IT
"Sure I see it. I'm trying not to get mobbed by it," --Matheny, on the conga line.
Everyone will wear No. 42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day when this series concludes with Sunday's finale, set for 12:10 p.m. CT. The Cardinals will send Carlos Martinez (1-1, 2.41 ERA) to the mound looking for a four-game sweep against the Reds' Homer Bailey. Armed with a new cutter, Martinez has held opponents to one run over his last 14 1/3 innings.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.