University of Miami closer Bryan Garcia recorded the first-ever save at Marlins Park with two consecutive bases-loaded strikeouts during a high school game in 2012.
That, he said, was “impressive.’’
He earned the Hurricanes’ only win in the 2015 College World Series with 2/3 of an inning of hitless relief.
“That was really cool.’’
And he broke the all-time saves record for third-ranked and No. 3 national seed UM (45-11) last week against NC State with the 40th of his career in an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament win fueled by Edgar Michelangeli’s three-run homer in the ninth.
“Surreal,’’ he said.
But for Garcia, nothing would be as priceless as the final saves of his college career, the first of which could come Friday night against No. 4 regional seed Stetson (29-29) in the Hurricanes’ opening game of the Coral Gables Regional.
“Every game means more now,’’ said Garcia (2-0, 1.89 ERA, 51 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings), a right-handed junior who is holding batters to a .179 average and is expected to be drafted next week between the second and sixth rounds. “The stats are out the window. The record is out the window. All that matters now is winning every game.’’
The 6-1, 205-pound semifinalist for the Dick Howser Award — given to the top player in collegiate baseball — turned 21 in April, but he began dreaming of wearing the orange and green as a 5-year-old accompanying his father Sergio to Mark Light Field. By then, little Bryan was an old-timer of sorts, having watched in his stroller as big brother Michael played youth ball at Flagami Park.
By age 3, Bryan would dash outside after preschool to repeatedly smack plastic balls off a tee in his West Miami backyard. Soon, a neighborhood youth coach convinced mom and dad to sign a waiver to allow their son to play among the big boys — a 3-year-old ringer in a league for 4 and 5-year-olds.
“He’d say, ‘Papa, let’s play ball!’ said his mother, Lily, a senior administrative assistant for the Department of Neurology at UM Hospital. “It never ended.”
Now, Lily and Sergio — a loan servicing asset manager who played basketball at Miami Champagnat Catholic School — are devising ways to save vacation time so they can both attend the College World Series should UM advance that far.
Last year the Canes were beaten twice by Florida in Omaha, where they hadn’t been since 2008. UM’s last of four national titles came in 2001, about the time Garcia became enamored of his hometown team.
Garcia, who mostly pitched as a starter and was not drafted out of Miami Columbus High, was consumed as a youngster with playing at The Light. He grew up watching some of the UM greats he passed en route to his record, such as George Huguet, who played from 2001 to 2004 and formerly held the saves record at 39.
“I’ve been here since his first one,’’ said UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga, who holds UM’s career record for wins with 43. “Anytime a guy breaks a record at a program like Miami you know he’s done something great.’’
Fifth in the nation with 15 saves, Garcia uses four pitches in his repertoire — a 92 to 96-mile-an-hour fastball, changeup, slider and occasional curveball. What makes him even more noteworthy is that he asked coach Jim Morris if he could be the closer as a freshman, one of only two Hurricanes who has done that since Morris took over in 1994.
The other was Robbie Morrison, now fourth on the all-time saves list with 34.
“We had all four starters back,’’ Garcia, a freshman All-American, recalled. “I wanted to be part of something bigger and I knew that closer was the next best thing. I hate being in the dugout and knowing I’m not going to pitch.’’
Garcia, voted a team captain, is a laid back, mellow young man who “transforms himself with a little mean streak on the mound,’’ Arteaga said. “Great character, great makeup, one of my all-time favorites for sure. But once he gets on the mound…
“I’d trade two starters for one closer any day.’’
Garcia said he becomes “a different person’’ when he’s pitching, and his “little mean streak’’ is not so little.
“I’m usually just a normal, very calm guy who likes to crack jokes,’’ he said. “But once I step in between those lines I get really pissed. The hitter is my enemy.’’
Starting for Miami on Friday will be left-handed junior Danny Garcia (9-3, 3.62), who usually pitches third in the weekend rotation. Stetson is going with right-handed junior ace Mitchell Jordan (6-5, 4.07), who was Pitcher of the Year last summer (8-1, 0.20) in the Cape Cod Collegiate League.
A UM win would advance the Canes to the 7 p.m. game against the winner of Friday’s 1 p.m. matchup between No. 2 seed FAU (38-17) and No. 3 seed Long Beach State (36-20).
A UM loss would put the Canes in the losers’ bracket game at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Bryan Garcia said he and his teammates are ready.
“The only thing we’re thinking about is winning this regional and advancing to the next round.’’