BRADENTON, Fla. -- Yeudy Garcia whirled to face the dugout and hopped off the mound as the top of the seventh inning came to an end. A quick pickoff move caught former teammate Tito Polo for the final out and completed his gem.
The Bradenton starting pitcher pumped his right fist, then pounded it into his glove and against his chest. He settled into a springy gallop to the dugout as he wiped sweat from his brow.
The seven-inning gem matched his longest outing of the season and gave the Marauders the early lead in the best-of-5 Florida State League Championship Series with a 8-1 win over the Yankees in Game 1 at McKechnie Field.
"His mindset going into the game was really good. Before, there were some starts where he would just maybe try to coast through the first inning. Today, he was absolutely ready from pitch No. 1 and the Game 1 start, I think, gave him some adrenaline," Bradenton manager Michael Ryan said.
In what should be his final start of the season, Garcia gave the Marauders one of his best even as he fought for command of his slider early. He settled for pitching to contact with his fastball for four scoreless innings before tearing through the final three. Although he allowed his only run on a seventh-inning solo homer by Kevin Cornelius, he recorded all six of his strikeouts against the final eight batters he faced.
"I was working for the first game for the Finals, in preparation, for using my changeup at least, sometimes slider," said Garcia, who threw 67 pitches, 89 for strikes. "It was very important for me today throwing my fastball for a first-pitch strike."
The Pirates' No. 12 prospect was able to survive some occasionally messy innings. He coughed up a single on the second pitch of the game, then surrendered a one-out double in the third. Garcia didn't record a clean frame until the fourth and didn't log a strikeout until the final out of the fifth.
By then, he found his slider, a frequent punchout pitch for the 23-year-old right-hander. He struck out the side in the sixth and fanned two more in the seventh after giving up Cornelius' blast.
Connor Joe gave Garcia and Bradenton a 1-0 lead in the second with his second homer in as many games and added a sacrifice fly in the fourth. Joe continued his two-game hot streak with an RBI single in a four-run eighth that broke open the game. Since striking out four times in the Marauders' postseason opener, the 24-year-old third baseman is 5-for-7 with two homers, five runs scored and four RBIs.
"Just staying to the opposite [field] is a big part," Ryan said. "He's staying up the middle. Just the way he takes breaking balls, you can tell he's really balanced."
Game 2 is Saturday in Bradenton.