A year ago, Deivi Garcia was a week removed from his 10th and final start of his first season in the United States. He made his Double-A debut and final start of the 2018 season even more memorable. In fact, it was almost historic.
The 12th-ranked Yankees prospect tossed five hitless innings, striking out seven, and Trenton came within four outs of a no-hitter in a 3-0 win over Reading on Sunday night at ARM & HAMMER Park. The victory clinched the Thunder's second consecutive Eastern League Eastern Division title and third straight playoff appearance.
Video: Trenton's Garcia notches his seventh strikeout
Jan Hernandez ended the no-no with a one-out single up the middle in the eighth off reliever Chase Hodson.
In a season full of notable outings, Sunday's might have been the best for Garcia (1-0), who began the year in extended spring training and made quite an impression on Trenton manager Jay Bell.
"Our pitching coordinator, Scott Aldred, has visited a few times and in each instance, Deivi's name would come up," the Thunder's first-year skipper said. "He'd talk about the way he handles himself, the stuff he has and the quality of his outings. But it was a situation where we needed someone for tonight and he stepped in on short notice and delivered a big outing. It's quite a story for him to have accomplished what he's done this year, and it gave us a big boost at the right time."
Gameday box score
The 19-year-old pitched three perfect frames before issuing consecutive walks to Malquin Canelo and Austin Listi in the fourth. Garcia kept Reading off the scoreboard by inducing three straight groundouts, then struck out the side in his fifth and final inning.
"He pounded the strike zone pretty well," Bell said. "His fastball had nice life and he threw a late-breaking curve which produced some pretty odd swings. He also mixed in a decent changeup a few times. He's got the whole package and he was facing some real quality hitters on that Reading club. It was not an easy task to pitch through a very tough lineup, but he did and did it well."
The outing capped a meteoric rise for the native of the Dominican Republic, who began last season in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League and ended it with Pulaski in the Appalachian League. Garcia made his 2018 debut with Class A Advanced Tampa on June 5 before settling in with Class A Charleston for eight starts. He returned to the Florida State League on Aug. 6 and went 2-0 with a 1.14 ERA and 28 strikeouts over 23 2/3 innings in four starts.
Garcia finished the year with a 5-4 record, 2.55 ERA and 105-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 74 innings across three levels.
Video: Reading's Hernandez singles for first hit
Hodson held the Fightin Phils out of the hit column through the sixth and seventh until Hernandez grounded his 2-2 offering into center field in the eighth. The 23-year-old had been mired in a 3-for-29 slump.
"You always want to see a no-hitter; it would have been fun," Bell said. "But our relievers did a great job coming in and slamming the door. It was disappointing that we didn't get the no-hitter, but we maintained the shutout and got the win. That's what we were looking for."
Matt Wivinis struck out the last two batters in the frame and worked around a single in the ninth to earn his fifth save.
Trenton extended its scoreless streak to 26 innings while pitching its 11th shutout of the year to leapfrog New Hampshire for the division crown.
"When I was managing last year [with Tampa], we won the division and played really well from start to finish," Bell said. "This year was different for me. We had to fight for everything we got. We had a lot of players make appearances for us and everyone who has come in did their own little part to help us out. I would say it's been a more enjoyable season for me because we've been chasing a good New Hampshire club all season. To get into first place yesterday and then clinch today was pretty special."
Kyle Holder hit his first Double-A homer, singled and drove in all three runs for the Thunder.
Reading starter Harold Arauz (9-7) was charged with two runs -- one earned -- on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
Phillies No. 22 prospect Cornelius Randolph singled in the ninth for the Fightins' other hit.