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There's no substitute for Garcia

He continues to make impact

Since the onset of Bullpengate, Yankees right fielder Karim Garcia has been -- depending on whom you speak to -- Public Enemy No. 1 or 1A behind reliever Jeff Nelson. Yesterday, Garcia heard plenty from the Fenway fans in his first appearance since the Game 3 fracas. He made the most of it, a fact more painful to Red Sox Nation in that he was originally not in the starting lineup because of a sore knuckle on his left pinkie.

That was manager Joe Torre's thinking, until batting practice. Once Torre saw Garcia take a few rips -- a few pain-free rips -- he quickly substituted Garcia for David Dellucci, setting in motion a chain of events that resulted in a 4-2 Yankees win that capped a bizarre and controversial Columbus Day weekend for the right fielder.

It was Garcia who, in his first at-bat since Saturday's bullpen melee, whacked a single to center with the bases loaded, staking David Wells and the Yankees to a 2-0 lead. This was the same player who had knocked in the Yankees' first run against Pedro Martinez Saturday -- and who had been the intended victim of a beanball the next time he came to the plate. This was the same player who climbed into the bullpen and, according to a police report, piled on a Red Sox employee and started throwing punches. This was the same player who was fined $10,000 by Major League Baseball for his role in the fracas.

This was a player who, until Saturday night, was basically an unknown to casual sports fans. Now, he's right near the top of any Q-rating system in Red Sox-Yankees history.

"Karim has had a difficult career, I'd say," said Wells, who has taken a few lumps himself along the way. "He's been up. He's been down. He's never really had an opportunity to go out there and play every day. He's getting an opportunity to play here and he's making the best of it. I couldn't be happier for the guy."

Wells, you may recall, was one of the more vocal Yankees after Martinez's scary pitch to Garcia in Game 3. Thus, it was even more rewarding to the Yankee hurler that Garcia got New York started with that two-run single in a three-run second inning.

"To get that key hit . . . he's focused. He's locked in," Wells said. "That's what you have to do in the postseason."

Garcia entered the game 1 for 10 lifetime against Sox starter Derek Lowe, although the hit was a home run. That didn't deter Torre. The manager said Garcia's eyes "lit up" when he was told he'd be playing.

"I had to impress Mr. Torre that I could swing the bat and that I could hit the ball out of the park," Garcia said. He said his left hand was too swollen and painful to have even pinch hit Monday.

"I said, `I feel pretty good. I think I can go,' " Garcia said. "He said, `Well, can you play?' I said, `If you give me the opportunity, I would love to.' "

Garcia was, needless to say, a favorite target of the fans, who constantly jeered him. He came to the plate in the bottom of the second, the No. 9 hitter, with the bases loaded. He jumped on a rare Lowe fastball and sent it into center field, his second and third RBIs of the series.

"I think that was great for me," Garcia said.

As for his off-the-field situation, Boston Police still have not decided whether to file charges against him or Nelson. Torre said he never considered not starting Garcia because of what happened in the bullpen, nor was he worried how Garcia would respond.

"We are here to do one thing," Torre said. "I went through my entire baseball [playing] career without experiencing this, so I certainly put a premium on October baseball and how exciting and rare it is."

And leave it to Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson, to put his spin on the Garcia affair. In the Yankee clubhouse after yesterday's big victory, Jackson said, "A guy got whacked in the bullpen. Someone was where he shouldn't have been, but no one's going to jail. You pay a little fine and you move on. The guy will be asking for an autographed ball and that's it."

Added Jackson, "I think when you fail, you think about it. When you succeed, you move on."

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