Yankees’ bold Deivi Garcia decision will be defining moment

SAN DIEGO — Joe Torre used to enjoy telling a story about the legendary pitcher Bob Gibson, who died just last week.

As Torre told it, Cardinals management asked Gibson for his opinion on Torre, who was playing for the Braves, as a potential acquisition. Gibson expressed his support for such a trade. So on March 17, 1969, St. Louis dealt Orlando Cepeda to the Braves for Torre.

“You didn’t tell me we were going to trade Cepeda for him!” Gibson exclaimed, as per Torre, who became a lifelong friend.

Fast-forward to Monday at Petco Park. Sure, we all advocated for fresh-faced Yankees pitched Deivi Garcia to get a prominent role in this pinstriped postseason. But starting him in American League Division Series Game 2?!

Bold call by the Yankees and their manager, Aaron Boone. So bold that, good or bad, it feels like it will be a defining decision for the Yankees, Boone and Garcia himself. The sort of move Yankees fans will be ruing or savoring for a while.

“What can I say?” Garcia said through an interpreter before Game 1. “I’m so excited about it. At the same time very thankful for the opportunity.”

You can see the upside here. In six major league starts, the 21-year-old Garcia — who will become the youngest starting pitcher in Yankees postseason history — displayed cool behind the wheel that belied his age as well the 4.98 ERA he sported. Start with his third start, Sept. 9 against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, when he threw seven innings of two-run ball that halted the Yankees’ nosedive at 5-15 and kicked off a 10-game winning streak. Then go to his most recent appearance, Sept. 26 against the Marlins at Yankee Stadium, when he stopped a three-game skid with a 6 ²/₃-inning, four-run effort that gave the Yankees their final win of the regular season, the one that ultimately protected them from having to play the Rays in the best-of-three wild-card series.

“I don’t worry about him not being able to handle it mentally, emotionally,” Boone said. “I know he’s looking forward to it.”

A cagey Boone declined to get too specific on why he went this way, yet the little he did say — allowing for the possibility of Garcia pitching just once through the lineup before removing him — and the much he didn’t say — he revealed that Masahiro Tanaka would start Game 3 and didn’t go beyond there — shed some light on his thinking. He clearly wants to turn the Rays’ versatility against them, force his nemesis Kevin Cash to make some calls on his many lineup options if, say, the Rays have to face a right-hander the first time around, then a southpaw (J.A. Happ or Jordan Montgomery) the second time, then another righty and so forth. It could lead to much bullpenning and certainly increases the possibility of turning back to Game 1 starter Gerrit Cole for a Game 5 start on short rest.

The nightmare scenario called for Cole to lose Game 1, handing an 0-1 hole to Garcia and seeing him get consumed by the moment and the Rays. For folks to question the wisdom of the Yankees’ boldness as the low-payroll Rays moved ahead to the AL Championship Series.

The dream naturally envisioned Garcia jumping on board the Cole train, controlling the Rays’ lineup the way he did the Blue Jays’ and setting up Tanaka for the sweep.

“They’re going to be competing, I’m going to be competing,” Garcia said. “I’m not going to think about having an advantage because they haven’t seen me pitch. It’s about me executing the best that I can as long as I can.”

For as long as Garcia remains a Yankee, as long as Boone manages him, this sure feels like a moment that won’t be forgotten.

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