ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' offense made things easy. Jaime Garcia made the night exciting.
Garcia's attempt to become the first Cardinal to throw a perfect game was thwarted with one out in the eighth inning on Friday night, but the second-year lefty still held on for a two-hit shutout as the Cardinals beat the Brewers, 6-0, at Busch Stadium. Garcia's bid for perfection was the longest by a Cardinal since May 31, 1985, when Danny Cox went 7 2/3 before allowing a baserunner against the Reds.
An announced crowd of 35,552 saluted Garcia repeatedly for his near-miss with history, and the young hurler called it "one of the greatest days of my short career."
From the start, he was in command. Garcia needed all of nine pitches to get through the first inning, and he followed it with two grounders and a popup in the second. By the end of the fourth inning he had fanned five Brewers, and it was clear that something was in the works. By the sixth, his teammates were taking note as well.
"The first couple innings, everybody's giving me, 'Good job on the inning,' 'Good job on bunting,' whatever it was," Garcia said. "Then I noticed in the sixth, seventh inning, nobody was talking to me. But I knew the whole time. I knew I had a perfect game. It's so hard not to think about it, because you get the fans going and you get a lot of things. But I was trying to do the best I could to focus on the next pitch."
He lost the perfect game when Casey McGehee walked on four pitches with one out in the eighth. Yuniesky Betancourt poked the next pitch through the left side to break up the no-hit bid. Garcia then induced a double-play grounder from Corey Hart to escape the inning, though, keeping the shutout intact.
"I was just looking for a first-pitch fastball somewhere over the plate, and try to hit it hard somewhere," Betancourt said through teammate and translator Yovani Gallardo.
Garcia allowed one more hit in the ninth, but still finished with the best game of his career. It was his third complete game and third shutout in the Majors, but his first two-hitter. He allowed three hits and no walks, striking out six, against the Giants on Aug. 22 last year, and had a four-hit, two-walk shutout against the Padres in his first start of 2011.
"The difference in this one was that I was able to not think about anything else but the next pitch," he said. "I fell behind a couple times, but I wasn't letting that affect my performance. OK, you threw a ball? Go to the next pitch. I felt like today I did a pretty good job of that."
Garcia was trying for the first Cardinals no-hitter since Sept. 3, 2001, when Bud Smith threw one against San Diego. He mowed down the Brewers on a night when his stuff and command were both worthy of big league history. He left little doubt that it was a night he will remember for a long time -- all the way down to being subjected to a Major League Baseball drug screening after the game. The test was random, and all players are subject to random testing as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
"It's the whole thing," he said. "The fans were awesome. They gave me a standing ovation pretty much the whole game -- [when] I lost the perfect game, I lost the no-hitter, at the end of the game. My teammates were awesome. The whole experience was unbelievable."
It also helped that he had plenty of offense. Garcia took a 1-0 lead into the second inning, and by the fifth the game was fully in hand. The Cards jumped on Milwaukee starter Randy Wolf early and often. Matt Holliday laced an RBI double for a first-inning lead, and Colby Rasmus made it 2-0 with a third-inning RBI triple. Albert Pujols' sacrifice fly stretched the lead to three runs, and it was already evident that three would be plenty for Garcia.
The Redbirds kept adding, though. Yadier Molina lined a leadoff homer in the fourth, and Pujols capped the scoring with a two-run single later in the same inning.
The Cardinals remained 1 1/2 games ahead of the Reds in the National League Central.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.