Deivi Garcia wasn’t old enough to have a beer and had never pitched in a big-league game when he arrived in Tampa for spring training in February.
Having risen through the Yankees’ minor league system with above average stuff, the reports also highlighted how confident, but not cocky, the right-hander was.
That self-assurance led him to ask for a belt with the No. 45 on it to honor fellow Dominican Republic hero and Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez.
Wednesday night, in the Yankees’ biggest game of the season, Garcia wore the belt while leading his teammates to a 7-2 win over the Blue Jays at Sahlen Field in Buffalo.
“That’s in honor of Pedro Martinez,’’ Garcia said. “It is a number I carry around. I have it in my gloves.’’
The victory ended a five-game Yankees’ slide, reduced the Blue Jays’ lead over them to two games in the race for second place in the AL East and increased the Yanks’ lead to 1½ lengths over the Orioles for the second AL wild-card ticket.
If Martinez watched Garcia dominate the Blue Jays, he had to be proud of a fellow right-hander with a small build. After giving up a two-run homer to Derek Fisher in the second inning, which erased a 1-0 Yankees lead, the 21-year-old Garcia didn’t allow a run in the next five innings on the way to his first big-league victory.
During the Yankees’ 5-15 slide, pitchers older and with much more experience crumbled. Yet, Garcia acted like a 10-year veteran against the Blue Jays.
“Of course it is in your mind. We find ourselves in a losing streak, but I don’t see it as pressure. I see it more as a responsibility,’’ Garcia said. “For me to give us a chance. I enjoy competing and being aggressive on the mound. The competition itself I enjoy that.’’
Garcia, who retired 18 of the final 20 batters he faced, including the last eight, had help.
Wearing glasses that he says he will continue to don after a solid night, an admittedly superstitious Gleyber Torres went 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBIs. DJ LeMahieu also homered and Clint Frazier went 2-for-4, drove in a run and made a running catch to take away an extra-base hit from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the sixth.
When Garcia left the game after seven innings, during which he allowed two runs and five hits, he was spotted in the dugout showing his right palm to the training staff, a possible indication of a blister. But it was only a seam burn from putting pressure on the fastball.
“Not a problem, not an issue,’’ Garcia said.
Armed with a fastball that can reach the mid-90s but even at slower speeds has plenty of deception for hitters to deal with, Garcia showed his pitching IQ when it was time to face the Blue Jays’ order for a third time. He went away from a so-so curveball and moved to the slider and changeup.
“The slider and the changeup I have a lot of confidence in,’’ said Garcia, who threw 95 pitches. “It was about changing their eye level the third time around and showing I can execute those pitches. I really like those pitches, key pitches for me to get out.’’
One victory doesn’t erase losing 15 of 20. Nor does it guarantee that another trip through the wildness isn’t lurking. However, it did wonders for the Yankees’ personality as they prepared for a flight home in front of a critical four-game series against the Orioles that starts Thursday night in The Bronx.
“It’s like a discotheque right now,’’ Aaron Boone said of the clubhouse music, which served as a backdrop for his Zoom call with reporters.
Music orchestrated by a baby-faced pitcher who may have helped the Yankees take their first step back to respectability.