SAN DIEGO — By taking the mound in Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, rookie Deivi Garcia will make history. The Dominican-born pitcher will become the youngest player to make a postseason start in New York Yankees franchise history at 21 years, 140 days old.
And he will do so with his team leading 1-0 in the best-of-five set. The Yankees won the series opener 9-3 Monday night at Petco Park.
Despite only six major league starts under Garcia’s belt, manager Aaron Boone said he opted to go with Garcia due to the maturity he has displayed this season. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, the only other 21-year-old to make a postseason start for the Yankees was Whitey Ford in Game 4 of the 1950 World Series (21 years, 351 days).
“We deliberated on that a lot over the last several days,” Boone said ahead of Game 1. “Masa [Tanaka] will now go in Game 3. So just like slot, and Deivi in between [Game 1 starter Gerrit] Cole and Masa was the way we wanted to go.
“I think the way he’s pitched, and the way he’s handled himself and handled every situation so far. I felt like I wanted to go this way a couple days ago but wanted to continue to flesh it out because we could. Ultimately, today, this morning, decided this is the way I wanted to go. I just felt [we had] a lot of good options there, [different] ways we could have gone. I don’t worry about him not being able to handle it, mentally, emotionally and all those things, and I know he’s looking forward to it.”
The rookie right-hander concurred.
“Super excited,” Garcia said of his reaction upon hearing the news from Boone. “When they finally told me that I was going to get the ball for Game 2, what can I say? Just so excited about it. At the same time, very thankful for the opportunity, and I will try to go out there and do the best I can.”
Tuesday’s start also will make Garcia the fifth-youngest player in American League history to register a postseason start and the youngest player born outside the United States to make a playoff start in the AL. Overall, only Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers Julio Urias (20 years, 68 days) and Fernando Valenzuela (five times) were younger in making a postseason start among players born outside the U.S.
Garcia, who said he idolized Hall of Fame starter Pedro Martinez growing up in the Dominican Republic, reiterated that it was an honor to make pinstripes history. Including a subpar outing at Fenway Park, Garcia finished the pandemic-shortened 2020 regular season with a 4.98 ERA in 34 1/3 innings pitched.
“It’s been a journey of preparing myself and doing everything I can to improve as a player and keep improving every day. I was hoping for an opportunity to get into a game like this at this level and especially now in the playoffs. I enjoy the competition, and I am very excited,” Garcia said.
“Getting to pitch in Game 2 wasn’t something that I dreamt I would have the opportunity to do. But being around the guys here and learning every day, you start to understand that there is a chance that you might get into a game, and you might have to assume the responsibility of taking the ball. My family is going to be watching in the Dominican Republic, and they’re gonna be supporting me from over there. It means a lot to get the ball in such an important game.”
It was a surprising decision for the Yankees, not only because of the success Tanaka has had in the postseason but also because J.A. Happ has repeatedly addressed his frustration and disappointment with having starts skipped. Happ at times accused the Yankees of preventing him from starting in an attempt to avoid his $17 million option from kicking in for 2021.
Happ, who went 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his final three regular-season starts, will still be an option for the Yankees if Garcia has a short outing, and so will fellow left-hander Jordan Montgomery.
“After his first two starts of the season, he’s been as good a starter as we’ve had, and we feel that confidence with him moving forward,” Boone said of Happ. “He’ll be ready. He’s going to play a big role for us. Like a pro. Like all he’s handled this year. [Happ] has answered the bell every time; whether he’s been disappointed or whatever, it hasn’t obviously affected his pitching.
“We’ll just see how [Garcia] is rolling. We’re sort of in an all-hands-on-deck situation, even though we’re just getting started in the series. We’ll do what we’ve got to do to try to win ballgames.”