Dusty Baker has worn many different hats in his professional career, from player to coach to manager, but on Tuesday, he played the role of Nostradamus.
Prior to the Astros’ 6-2 loss to the Rockies, Baker proclaimed that pitching would command the chilly, crisp Colorado night.
“[Pitchers] actually perform pretty good during these conditions because the hitters are the ones that don’t like their hands stinging,” Baker said pregame, before a first-pitch temperature of 35 degrees. “The hitters are the ones that are standing around at their positions.”
Baker’s prediction was right on the mark.
Luis Garcia, thrown into a spot start for Lance McCullers Jr., twirled the longest start of his young career, allowing two earned runs and three hits across 5 2/3 innings with six strikeouts.
“He was very good,” Baker said. “We didn’t want to go get him when we did because our bullpen has been getting beaten up lately.”
Unfortunately for Baker, his assessment applied even more so to his own offense. The Astros’ bats mustered just five hits and grounded into three double plays, saddling Garcia with the tough-luck loss.
Garcia’s night is all the more impressive given the conditions. Coors Field certainly had the look to match the temperature. Tiny mounds of slush could be seen behind home plate. Players wore long sleeves. Coaches and fans donned heavy jackets.
Everyone dressed for the occasion. Everyone, except Garcia. Even with the game-time temperature near freezing, Garcia eschewed the extra layers. Garcia didn’t appear phased by the temperatures, but offered a confession postgame.
“I was cold,” he said with a smile.
Despite Coors Field’s unfriendly -- and on this night, frigid -- conditions, Garcia minimized hard contact. Of the three hits he allowed, only one was struck well. Raimel Tapia had a bloop “double” off Garcia with an exit velocity of 73.7 mph, while Trevor Story poked a single into right field at an even weaker 64.3 mph.
Garcia worked out of several jams, but none stickier than the fourth inning. Tapia led off with the aforementioned double, one that initially appeared to be a popout. Off the bat, Tapia shook his head in disgust, but when the ball landed in shallow center and no one was covering second, he advanced the extra base.
The Rockies had a runner on second, no outs and the heart of the order due up, but Garcia didn’t unravel. He got Ryan McMahon to ground out, struck out Story swinging, then induced a groundout of Charlie Blackmon to escape unscathed.
Although Garcia didn’t finish the sixth inning, he showed more poise and an ability to make on-the-fly adjustments. Garcia began the sixth looking uncharacteristically erratic. He walked Tapia on four pitches, then threw three consecutive balls to McMahon. The bullpen stirred.
Martín Maldonado, who returned on Tuesday from the IL, visited the mound and told his pitcher to attack the zone. With a 3-0 count to McMahon and Story on deck, Garcia executed some of his best pitches of the night.
The right-hander began with a fastball in the zone to McMahon, bringing the count to 3-1. Garcia then threw a low changeup out of the zone and generated a swing-and-miss, working the count to 3-2. On the payoff pitch, he induced a 4-6-3 double play. After seven straight balls, Garcia threw three strikes in a row and got two big outs.
“He did phenomenal,” veteran outfielder Michael Brantley said. “Every time he goes out there, I’m impressed. He gives us a chance to win.”
While Garcia was phenomenal, the rest of Houston's roster left much to be desired, save for Brantley’s three-hit night. Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel went a combined 1-for-15, and the bullpen allowed two home runs.
“We’re going through a bad period, and this happens when things aren’t going good,” Baker said. “It seems like no matter who you turn to right now, it’s the wrong decision.”