TAOYUAN, TAIWAN – On the final day of the preliminary round of the Premier 12 on Sunday, some teams wound up jumping for joy and some left with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Venezuela was in the latter group. The South Americans were in a good position to make it to the quarterfinal round heading into their game against Japan, but the ticket slipped from their grasp at the last moment in a 6-5 walk-off loss.
Venezuela starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, however, gave a canny yet gutsy performance. The 39-year-old former major league hurler threw for 7⅓ innings on 123 pitches, giving up three runs, against Samurai Japan.
After the game, Garcia appeared in the mixed zone with a drained expression on his face, pulling a big carry bag stuffed with his baseball gear.
“My heart’s broken,” Garcia said. “We got the game into the ninth inning and lost. For my part, I was doing my pitching. I got the guys off balance. I threw for 7⅓ innings. I feel good about it, but we lost.”
Venezuela was tied with Mexico with an identical 2-3 record in Group B. But it was ousted in a tiebreaker (Venezuela lost to Mexico 6-4 in its first Premier 12 game on Tuesday).
“We should’ve won the first game,” said Garcia, who started in the Mexico game and had a solid outing. “It was a tough loss.”
Garcia, who had a 156-108 record in 15 years in the big leagues, doesn’t have the same velocity anymore. But he can still be an effective thrower, having changed his style. He makes full use of the numerous pitches in his arsenal.
“I’ve got five pitches,” said Garcia, who went 18-6 for the Seattle Mariners in 2001. “And I throw them from different angles. So I can get the guys off balance.”
Garcia insisted that his pride in playing for his country gave him an extra push.
“It’s a big deal for us,” the Caracas native said. “We represent our country. We try to do our best when we play.”
Venezuela skipper Luis Sojo appreciated that Garcia gave his all and provided valuable leadership to his team’s younger players during the tournament.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Sojo said. “I tip my hat to this guy. That’s what a veteran guy would bring. When I came out and took him out, he was very tired. But it was an unbelievable outing.”
And Garcia’s familiarity with the environment helped him a little too. Garcia played for the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan in 2014.
“The mound here felt really good,” Garcia said. “And it’s a really good ballpark, a big ballpark. So I could make good pitches throwing for strikes mostly.”
Garcia recalled his time in Taiwan fondly, on and off the diamond.
“I had a great year here, playing for the EDA Rhinos,” He said. “They treated me good. The Taiwanese people are good people.”
Garcia, a World Series champion with the Chicago White Sox in 2005, still looks good on the mound and has at least a few more years in him, if not at major-league level. Yet he realistically thinks that he has “maybe one more year.”
“And then I’ll stay home with the family and with the kids,” Garcia said, with a little grin. “Let’s see what happens next year.”
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