Commentary

Garcia re-earning his nickname in N.Y.

No one's more fab than Freddy in tight spots. Time to start calling him The Chief again?

Updated: June 13, 2011, 9:01 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Freddy Garcia's nickname, given to him upon his arrival in the majors, is The Chief.

In 1999, former New York Yankee Jay Buhner christened Garcia The Chief after Buhner decided the then long-haired, 22-year-old righty had a striking resemblance to Chief Bromden in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Freddy Garcia
AP Photo/Kathy KmonicekFreddy Garcia has been baseball's best pitcher with runners in scoring position this season.

Garcia lived up to the hype of having been traded for an in-his-prime Randy Johnson, becoming as much The Chief in Seattle as Robert Parish was in Boston. The nickname stuck with Garcia until he got to the Yankees' clubhouse this spring. Garcia said none of his teammates call him The Chief.

It might be time to resurrect the nickname.

Of all the starters in baseball this season -- the Roy Halladays, the Tim Lincecums, the CC Sabathias -- there has been no one better when there are runners in scoring position.

On Sunday, the Cleveland Indians had 10-at-bats with RISP and didn't get one hit. The only run off Garcia came on a meaningless seventh-inning groundout.

When trouble arrives, Garcia just goes into shutdown mode. He and Oakland's Gio Gonzalez have both allowed just nine hits in 67 at-bats with RISP. That is a ridiculously low .134 average against in the most important spots.

On Sunday, Garcia won a 9-1 decision over the Indians, the final score belying his brilliance under pressure. It was 1-0 Yankees for the first five innings he pitched. The Yankees put up five runs in the bottom of the fifth and The Chief could forget his last time out, a 1-2/3 inning disaster against the Boston Red Sox.

"I had to put it in the past," said Garcia, who, along with the injured Bartolo Colon, has been the Yankees' season-saver.

Garcia is just 5-5 with a 3.60 ERA, but where would they be without him? At 34, Garcia isn't the same starter he once was, but he is still like a Baskins-Robbins of pitching.

"You never know what he is going to throw," said Derek Jeter, who has been a .250 hitter in 48 at-bats against Garcia. "He has five or six different pitches that he can throw at anytime. He has a lot of off-speed pitches that can keep you off-balance. He is not afraid to throw any pitch, regardless of what the situation is. It makes for an uncomfortable at-bat for a hitter."

What The Chief does is stay calm in the face of trouble. Of his seven innings Sunday, the first was the only in which there were no Indians in scoring position.

"It is probably the experience he has had," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He has pitched in big situations. He is able to relax and just make his pitch."

As Garcia held off the Indians, the support eventually came. The Yankees pounded Cleveland as if they were Thomas Hearns in his prime. They all were hit men (except for Russell Martin), knocking the Indians around for a season-high 18 hits. They scored all their runs without hitting a home run.

At one point in the season, the Indians were the best team in baseball, which is sort of impossible to imagine this weekend. They don't really look like they belong, with the injury-a-day Yankees so far outscoring them 24-8. When Girardi took Garcia out in the seventh, The Chief walked off and the nearly 47,000 fans rose to salute him. As he approached the dugout, Garcia raised his right hand in acknowledgment.

"When you pitch good, they do that," Garcia said. "If you pitch badly, they boo you. I think that is the way it is."

The way Garcia is pitching seems suited for New York. He may not have the same stuff from a decade ago, but he has the same head. He may look delectable to hitters with his fastball in the mid-80s at times, but, in the end, The Chief continues to prevail.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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