Yeudy Garcia lifted his head to the fading sky above McKechnie Field and pounded his right fist into the glove on his left hand.
As Miracle outfielder Edgar Corcino slammed his bat on to home plate, the Marauders starting pitcher exhaled and grinned while he started walking to his dugout. The righty has been a central part of the at-times dominant Marauders’ rotation that has carried the Marauders within one win of clinching the Florida State League South’s first-half championship.
There were moments Thursday, though, when Bradenton’s ERA leader (2.51) nearly slipped and left the handful of teams chasing the M’s with an opening. His at-bat against Corcino was during the fifth was one.
“He kept us in the game is what I liked,” manager Michael Ryan said. “It seems like he has more conviction when he’s in those situations.”
A two-out single and stolen base by third baseman T.J. White gave Corcino a chance to tie the game against Garcia during the fifth. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Garcia blew a fastball by the center fielder, who released his frustration while the the pitcher sighed with relief at holding the one-run cushion. Garcia only recorded one more out, but by then the Marauders had stretched their lead to five. Bradenton finished off a 6-2 win about an hour later
With Garcia’s effort, the Marauders’ (36-29) can clinch a playoff berth as early as Monday when the Marauders return from the All-Star break to host the Hammerheads in Bradenton. The Mets, whose game in Jupiter on Thursday was canceled after a lengthy rain delay, fell 2 1/2 games behind the Marauders following Bradenton’s win. The Marauders’ have three games left in the season’s first half.
Garcia’s production has been a curious case for the Pittsburgh affiliate, which entered Thursday with the second-best team ERA in the league. Despite his ERA, Garcia (2-4) has thrown fewer innings than any of his teammates who have also made at least 12 starts. He also leads the team in strikeouts and holds batters to a lower average than Colten Brewer.
But danger seems to chase Garcia and during four of his five full innings Thursday, he made the 1,041 at McKechnie antsy about an opponent in scoring position. During the first inning it was a two-out double, which was quickly erased with a groundout. An inning later, he took a line drive off his leg and walked another batter with two outs before escaping the frame with a strikeout. And in the third, a wild pitch with a runner on third nearly gave the Twins’ FSL team an early lead, but Garcia raced to the plate to take a feed from catcher Taylor Gushue and tag White as he slid into home.
“We just need to get him ready to pitch to the first batter of each inning,” Ryan said. “I think he just takes it easy a little bit.”
The Marauders took one hit after the game when Kevin Newman was promoted to Double A Altoona. The Florida State League all-star shortstop leads the league in batting average and has spent nearly a year with this group, first at Class A West Virginia to end last season and now for 65 games in Bradenton.
For the No. 11 prospect in Pittsburgh’s organization, according to MLB.com, it’s not a surprise how consistent the Marauders have been this year. He joined the same group during a season-ending tear last year and played in the postseason. With one more win, the same group will be in the playoffs once again.
“It was amazing. They were so loose and so focused at the same time,” Newman said. “There are days where we’ll show up the yard and we won’t really have our stuff, but we’re going to grind out at-bats and we’re going to play all nine hard. Some teams shut it down, but this group—they’ve got one gear and that’s, Go.”