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The Rest Turns Out Best for Garland

After a long layoff, the White Sox starter relies on his fastball rather than his sinker and produces one of his best performances.

October 15, 2005|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

If there is perspective to be had from being a break-even pitcher for four seasons where there are expectations for more, it is the appreciation for the ebb and flow of the game, from achievement to failure and back.

Wins come, and then they don't, and then the manager hands over the baseball again, and it starts over.

Jon Garland, whose big-league education began at 20, and who became an 18-game winner at 26, had 13 days off, took the ball, favored a four-seam fastball over his signature sinker, and Friday at Angel Stadium pitched nine innings to give the Chicago White Sox a two-games-to-one lead on the Angels in the American League championship series.

Garland not only had not pitched in the White Sox's first five games of the postseason, he had never pitched in the postseason at all. When Manager Ozzie Guillen finally got around to his place in the rotation, Garland allowed the Angels four hits, one walk and nothing in the way of a breath.

Pitching an hour's drive from his native Granada Hills, Garland led as thorough a 5-2 beating as 5-2 could be. Only two of his 118 pitches were hit with any authority. The rest darted in and around the strike zone, many boring in on the hands of the aggressive Angel hitters, who often swung simply for survival.

Geared up after such a long layoff, Garland followed hard fastballs with harder fastballs, and better-located fastballs, and the innings passed with only a single serious scoring threat.

Because of his layoff, Garland said: "I stayed away from [the sinker]. I didn't throw the sinker as much today. I stayed with the four-seamer. I was feeling strong, and I was throwing ... inside on these guys. It worked early on so I stayed with it throughout the entire game."

An All-Star who had lost his first-half momentum in a four-loss August and a five-win second half, Garland threw 83 strikes in 118 pitches. Of the 30 batters Garland faced, 16 saw first-pitch strikes. Of the 14 who took first-pitch balls, 13 got second-pitch strikes.

Garland had admitted beforehand to a sinkerballer's concern over the time that had passed between starts, and Guillen admitted afterward he was somewhat apprehensive because of the rest, as well. But the White Sox scored three times off Angel starter John Lackey in the first inning, and Garland kept coming off the mound with a lead.

"He pitched real well this year," Guillen said, "and I think that's the best I've seen him throw all year long."

The Angels had one leadoff hitter reach base; that was Chone Figgins in the first inning, and he was gone on a Vladimir Guerrero double-play ball. In the sixth inning, Adam Kennedy looped a one-out opposite-field single, and Orlando Cabrera homered one out later.

Garland retired the next 10 hitters, from two out in the sixth to congratulatory handshakes on the mound, a hug from catcher A.J. Pierzynski and a smile from pitching coach Don Cooper.

"It didn't look like he was getting tired," Cooper said of Garland, who threw more than 118 pitches in only three starts this season. "He had one tough inning the whole game. We didn't really discuss anything other than, 'Let's go, it's his game.' "

The start that appeared dicey was gone in less than three hours. Guerrero had hit the ball out of the infield once. Garret Anderson had not managed it at all. Figgins took another oh-fer.

And the fans left quietly, Garland having taken the drama away so quickly, stealing even their enthusiasm for riding umpire Doug Eddings. Garland had pitched as an 18-game winner, as what he had become after years of hope and 12-win seasons.

"You know, last year we took a lot of heat in Chicago because they always said, 'How long are [you] going to stay with this kid?' " Guillen said, later adding, "There's a lot of good things that happened to him over his career, and I trust this kid, and he's coming up to be a pretty good big-league pitcher. But it's not only about trust; it's about knowing he's going to be there, and he did."

Garland shares that perspective.

"It's just one of those things, that it's not easy to go out and win a game," he said. "A lot of things have to go right, and over the past few years things might have rolled the other way, and this year I had some luck on my side."

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