DENVER -- Things started out bad for Jaime Garcia on Saturday night. Then it got much, much worse.
Garcia took the soundest beating of his young Major League career in a 15-4 Cardinals loss to the Rockies at Coors Field, allowing 12 runs (11 earned) in 3 1/3 innings as his ERA soared from 1.93 to 3.28. He never seemed to be at full effectiveness after a frustrating 48-pitch first inning, and he admitted after the game that he was worn out by the time he was pulled.
The young lefty had never before allowed more than eight runs or seven earned runs in a start. The 11 hits against him were also a career high, and he issued four walks. Meanwhile the Cardinals could get nothing going against Rockies starter Juan Nicasio, who made his Major League debut.
Garcia's first inning was a strange one, and very much set the tone. Eric Young Jr. reached on an infield hit, and Garcia walked Dexter Fowler. Carlos Gonzalez's ground-ball single made it 1-0, and Troy Tulowitzki beat out an infield hit that brought home the second run. Todd Helton's single loaded the bases, but Garcia struck out Ty Wigginton and got ahead of Ryan Spilborghs and looked like he might be on his way to escaping the inning.
Instead, he was assessed an automatic ball for going to his mouth while standing on the rubber, running the count to 2-2. Three pitches later, he walked in a run. Two more singles made it 6-0 and the game was never close after that. Two singles and a walk added up to the seventh Rockies run.
Garcia acknowledged that the bad-luck hits against him may have caused him to become less aggressive, which in turn led to walks. The first inning clearly sapped him greatly, despite better results in the second and third.
"I guess they got a couple hits and I was trying to be too fine," he said. "And then after that first inning, it was different. The first inning I felt really good, but they got a lot of hits. I threw a lot of pitches. And then..."
Garcia breezed through a perfect third, but the fourth was both ugly and strange. A leadoff double and a groundout brought up Helton with one out and a runner on third. Helton hit a grounder to first base, and Albert Pujols went home to try to get the lead runner. The Cards caught Gonzalez in a rundown, but Garcia made contact with Gonzalez.
It was ruled obstruction, and Gonzalez was awarded home plate. The play likely shouldn't have even gone that far, though. The Cardinals made three throws on the rundown alone.
"We definitely made too many throws on it," third baseman Daniel Descalso said. "I didn't see where the obstruction occurred. I was getting back into position in case it came back my way. But we need to get that out. We've got to execute that play better."
Garcia didn't retire another batter, ending his outing with a walk, a triple and a home run before handing the ball to Ryan Franklin. He finished the game with nearly as many earned runs in one evening (11) as in his previous 2011 starts combined (14).
"You're never shocked," said Chris Iannetta, who homered twice, "because the game is so hard. He's pitched really well, and it's going to happen. I'm sure his next start he's going to bounce back and pitch really well and be his normal self."
Garcia's struggles were far from the only issue for St. Louis, as manager Tony La Russa emphasized after the game. The Redbirds botched the rundown, and Lance Berkman made an overly aggressive decision to throw to third base on a first-inning single. Meanwhile on the offensive side, the Cardinals hit into two early double plays, costing them chances to get to Nicasio.
If there was a bright spot, it was Franklin, who did valuable work in long relief. Franklin made it consecutive outings without allowing a run for the first time in 2011, and his 2 2/3 innings lightened the load on what could have been a seriously taxing night for the St. Louis bullpen. Franklin struck out three and allowed two singles, dropping his ERA from 9.20 to 7.79.
The best news, though, was the simple fact that it was just one game. The Cardinals remain in first place in the National League Central, 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Brewers.
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.