MIAMI -- The Houston Astros (and the rest of MLB) already knew Luis Garcia is good. Like, really good. On Saturday night, Garcia showed the rest of the world what he can do.
Garcia pitched three innings in relief en route to Venezuela’s 5-1 win over the Dominican Republic to kick off Pool D play.
In the first round of the Classic, the group stage features a round-robin style tournament between five teams -- Pool D includes Israel, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico as well. The two teams with the best records will advance to the quarterfinals against the winners of Pool C, which is composed of the USA, Great Britain, Mexico, Colombia and Canada.
But before advancing, or even thinking about advancing, there need to be wins. Garcia was crucial in Team Venezuela’s victory -- its first over the Dominican Republic. Garcia recorded seven strikeouts over three innings, the first time a reliever has had seven K’s in a World Baseball Classic game.
Venezuelan manager Omar López had planned to use Garcia against Puerto Rico in some capacity on Sunday night. But, consulting his analytics team, it was decided that Garcia would be best used out of the bullpen against the Dominican Republic.
“[I decided] I wanted more of the combination of the left-hander with the Dominican Republic,” López said. “After that I talked to one of our pitching coaches. We went over our analytics, and he was a match for the Dominican Republic.
“Thank God we were able to prepare him. The Astros actually prepared him [so that he could] be that reliever [matched] with [starter Martín] Pérez [and] was able to dominate the powerful offense of the D.R.”
Plus, it made for entertaining baseball being able to watch Garcia face off against Astros teammate and Dominican shortstop Jeremy Peña, who he struck out swinging on four pitches to end the fifth inning.
“It was fun to watch those guys, you know, on the other side,” said López, who is also the first-base coach for the Astros. “Before coming here, they were [all] together every day. They were speaking all the time, making jokes about the team, and here we are.
“It's a brotherhood. It's a brotherhood that we have, and we are developing. [On] Puerto Rico, you have [Astros catcher Martín] Maldonado, for example. We have people in other countries as well. This brotherhood has helped the Astros be successful in the last two or three years.”
Despite that brotherhood -- or perhaps because of that familiarity -- Garcia found success against his Astros teammate, and against almost the entirety of the D.R. lineup. And he made personal and tournament history, as well. That’s not too shabby for a reigning World Series champion. Who knows, could a World Baseball Classic championship be in his future, too?