Garcia Turns From Goat Into Hero
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Jose Garcia showed the jitters that come with being the youngest player in the New York-Penn League All-Star game when he threw the ball away on his first opportunity.
Then he showed the maturity of a veteran in getting the decisive base hit in the eighth that provided the American League with a come-from-behind 4-3 win at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, home of the Staten Island Yankees.
The Lowell shortstop, who turned 19 in April, entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the fourth. With two outs and runners on second and third, Garcia fielded a routine ground ball and promptly one-hopped it over first baseman Phil Wunderlich's head, allowing both runners to score to provide the National League with a 3-1 cushion. Williamsport left fielder Miguel Alvarez gave the NL a 1-0 lead with a solo homer in the second.
"Oh my goodness, I felt really bad," said Garcia, who was signed as a 17-year-old non-drafted free agent from San Pedro de Macoris in 2008, on his throwing error. "My arm hurt a little because I wasn't really warmed up, so I threw the ball down."
Garcia's Lowell teammate, center fielder Felix Sanchez, delivered a run-scoring single in the third that accounted for the American League's lone run until the three-run eighth. In between, NL and Brooklyn Cyclones manager Wally Backman's staff retired 14 of the next 19 batters, nine via strikeouts.
It took Brookyln's Angel Cuan just nine pitches to strike out the side in the fourth and Batavia's Chase Reid 18 pitches to do the same in the next inning. Cuan leads the league with 55 strikeouts. Nine NL pitchers accounted for 13 strikeouts in the game.
In the eighth, it was a trio of Connecticut Tigers that got the AL moving. First baseman James Robbins led off with a double, went to third on a single by his NY-Penn league teammate, catcher Julio Rodriguez, and scored on a fielder's choice by right fielder P.J. Polk.
Aberdeen's Trent Mummey drew a walk off of Williamsport's Chase Johnson, forcing Backman to summon his Brooklyn closer, Ryan Fraser, who walked third baseman Matt Perry to fill the bases. Designated hitter Ryan Enos drove in Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly to tie the score 4-4.
Garcia, batting ninth for manager Josh Paul of the Yankees, hit the first pitch he saw, lacing a single that knocked in the winning run. The light-hitting Garcia has only eight RBI in 38 games this summer.
"I was looking for a fastball," Garcia said, "and I got one."
Staten Island's Preston Claiborne and Chase Whitley picked up the win and the save, respectively. Johnson, who tops the league with 13 saves, took the loss. The NL managed only four hits.
Backman's team has the best winning percentage (38-19, .667), batting average (.290) and ERA (3.02), so it was fitting that his Cyclones were the most represented in the all-star game with eight.
Two of those players, right fielder Cory Vaughn and shortstop Rylan Sandoval, have been offensive stars while playing with diabetes. They were both diagnosed as pre-teens and neither has let the illness define them.
"As long as you manage it, it doesn't interfere with baseball," said Vaughn, the son of former slugger Greg Vaughn.
Vaughn, a fourth round pick out of San Diego State this June, went 1-for-2 with a run scored in the all-star game and is second in the league with 12 homers and tied for first with 44 RBI. What makes these numbers standout is that he's accomplished this with a small pump he keeps in the right pocket of his baseball pants. This allows the insulin he requires to run through a port in his right leg.
"I've learned to slide on my left hip," he said. "If I broke this thing I would have a problem."
"When Cory showed me that pump he carries, I'd never seen anything like it," Backman said. "But it seems like both guys have a real handle on the problem, and it's second nature to them now."
Backman believes Vaughn, who he calls a "five-tool player," can make it to the Mets in three years.
"He has the ability to hit for average and power," said Backman. "He's made the adjustment from aluminum to wood bats very nicely."
Sandoval, a 30th round pick in the 2007 draft, chose to treat his diabetes in a more conventional way. He administers insulin shots with a needle.
"There are times you're out in the field and you start to feel a little woozy," Sandoval said. "I always keep some orange juice or candy bars in the clubhouse to control it."
He missed the all-star game due to a wrist injury that will keep him sidelined for the remainder of the season. Sandoval is in third place in the league with a .330 batting average.
"I may go to the instructional league in the fall," he said. "We'll see."