SEATTLE -- This is why Major League teams have utility infielders. They need someone who can come off the bench and contribute to a winning effort even if they haven't played in a while.
Or even if they have never started in a Major League game or played as much as one inning on defense. Rookie Leury Garcia found himself in that situation on Saturday night as the Rangers' starting shortstop, and he responded by playing like a savvy veteran.
He kept finding himself in the middle of several game-changing situations and handled every one of them smoothly in helping the Rangers to a 3-1 victory over the Mariners at Safeco Field.
"He played unbelievable," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "We all know he can play, but the way he played tonight -- offensively and defensively -- he made it look easy."
Garcia was in the lineup because manager Ron Washington wanted to use Elvis Andrus at designated hitter and give Lance Berkman a night off. Andrus handled his DH duties as well by driving the go-ahead run with a two-out single in a two-run eighth inning
"Same lineup tomorrow," Andrus announced afterward.
Garcia was 1-for-2 with a single off Mariners starter Joe Saunders to lead off the sixth inning. The Rangers were trailing, 1-0, before Garcia's first Major League hit and reactive baserunning led to the tying run. He also took care of six grounders at shortstop on a night when an error by the opposing shortstop came up big.
"It was good. ... It was awesome," Garcia said. "I was ready tonight."
Garcia was also in the middle of the Rangers' eighth-inning rally when they manufactured the two runs that pushed them to their eighth victory in 12 games and second in three nights against the Mariners. His only appearance prior to this was a meaningless pinch-hit at-bat late in a four-run loss.
"He was very good for the first time out there," Washington said. "He didn't show any nerves. He handled himself well."
So did Joe Ortiz, another nerveless rookie who earned his second Major League win in three nights with two more scoreless innings. He was the second of three relievers needed after Alexi Ogando held the Mariners to one run in five innings but had his night cut short because his pitch count reached 98.
"I thought I pitched well, but threw too many pitches," Ogando said. "You have to give them credit; they battled and made me throw a lot of pitches."
Ogando also had to battle with Saunders, who held the Rangers scoreless through five innings. Then Garcia got them going in the sixth with a leadoff single to right. Ian Kinsler then hit double-play grounder to Brendan Ryan, one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. But he fumbled the ball for an error, one of two pivotal defensive plays in the inning.
"I don't like to say bad hop, tough hop," Ryan said. "The second bounce is always the worst, it changes the spin. It seemed like it skipped, then the next bounce it really jumped. I didn't get any glove on it."
Andrus bunted the runners to second and third, and Beltre walked to load the bases. Nelson Cruz then hit a low line drive to Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, who dropped the ball, leaving a lot of people trying to figure out what to do next.
"When something like that happen, it's off the radar, man," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "It's not something you can ever design or practice."
"It all happened so quick," Smoak said. "Should of caught the ball, first of all, but Beltre coming back to the bag kind of blinded me."
Beltre never moved off first and Smoak threw to second base for the force. Kinsler hesitated at second before reluctantly starting for third. But Garcia reacted quicker than anybody and broke home. That allowed him to score the tying run before the Mariners -- with no chance to get Cruz -- could complete a rundown on Kinsler for an inning-ending double play.
"I had it in my mind ... line drive, stay back and freeze," Garcia said. "But as soon as he dropped it, I was gone."
It was still 1-1 in the eighth. Then Craig Gentry led off the eighth with a walk against reliever Carter Capps and went to second on a hit-and-run play as Garcia bounced back to the mound. It wasn't the game-winning hit, but Garcia did get Gentry into scoring position and Andus delivered a two-out single to get the run home. Andrus, after moving to second on a stolen base and third on a wild pitch, scored on a single by Beltre to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead.
Joe Nathan earned the save by retiring the side in order in the ninth, and the second out was a hard grounder to Garcia. It seemed to be his night almost all the way.
"He played a tremendous game," Andrus said.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.