Don Mattingly called it the right decision. Others watching Mattingly do what the New York Mets couldn't on Wednesday, which was to spoil Jarlin Garcia's no-hit bid, might have begged to differ.
Mattingly pulled the plug on Garcia after only six innings and 77 pitches, and the floodgates opened when the first-place Mets rallied for their eighth straight victory and a sweep of the series.
"Pretty easy one there with Jarlin," Mattingly said of his debatable decision to lift Garcia. "I know he's got a no-hitter. But, at that point, I know he's not going to make it."
Garcia was making his first Major League start after spending all of last season, and the early part of this one, pitching out of the Marlins bullpen. The Marlins are transitioning the lefty to a starting role, and Mattingly had said previously they would monitor his workload.
But Mattingly also told reporters before Wednesday's game that Garcia was under no pitch-count restrictions, which was why the pitcher's removal was somewhat perplexing. Garcia had thrown 67 pitches in the first of his two relief outings so far and 73 in the other.
There was no reason to think he couldn't ratchet it up to 90 or more against the Mets.
Or was there?
Mattingly said he saw signs that Garcia was "laboring" in the fifth and sixth innings by falling behind in counts but somehow working out of trouble. Garcia issued a five-pitch walk to Jay Bruce in the fifth, followed by a four-pitch free pass to Kevin Plawecki. Still, he survived the 16-pitch inning without allowing a hit.
Juan Lagares opened the sixth with a screaming liner to right. But it was right at Cameron Maybin for the out. Garcia got out of the inning on 14 pitches and recorded one of his only three strikeouts by whiffing Mets starter Zack Wheeler.
Garcia said he felt strong enough to head back out for the seventh.
“I felt like I could have kept going," Garcia said.
But Mattingly and pitching coach Juan Nieves felt otherwise.
"I talked during the game with Juan and basically 90 [pitches] was where he felt was as much as he was going to be able to go," Mattingly said, noting that the heart of the order was due up in the seventh for the Mets, as well.
So Nieves said no mas to Garcia after the sixth.
"That's not my decision," Garcia said through a translator. "It's up to the manager. It's my first start out there, so I understand what they're doing. I'm pitching with their guidance."
Said Mattingly: "He did his job, and to send him back out there wasn’t going to be the best thing for him and, in my mind, not the best thing for us."
Mattingly went to Drew Steckenrider in the seventh as Garcia watched from the dugout, a combined no-hitter still possible.
"The best thing right there was Steck at the top of the order, so that was actually a pretty easy one," Mattingly said of the pitching move.
The no-hit drama ended that inning on Todd Frazier's two-out single.
But it was the eighth that left Mattingly second-guessing himself. He had Tayron Guerrero start the frame but replaced him with Chris O'Grady to set up lefty-lefty matchups against pinch-hitters Michael Conforto and Adrian Gonzalez.
That move backfired. Conforto's double preceded Gonzalez's two-run, go-ahead single. The Mets scored all four of their runs in the inning.
"That's the one I wrestle with," Mattingly said. "Match-up wise it probably tells me to go left-handed (with O'Grady) there. But stuff-wise, with Tayron, I just like the way he's throwing the ball. So that's the one I wrestle with a lot more than the other (taking out Garcia)."
It's doubtful Garcia could have completed nine innings while keeping his pitch-count low enough so as not to cause red-alert concern? Could he have gone another inning, or even two?
Possibly. But nobody will ever know.