Lately, Garko has been getting the job done for the Indians, and not a moment too soon. He has responded to the challenges placed in front of him by manager Eric Wedge, shaken off the embarrassment of a brief benching and once again been the consistent run producer the Indians expect him to be.
At season's end, the question will be whether Garko did all this in time to save his job.
Victor Martinez's impending return from the disabled list has the potential to squeeze Garko in 2008. Martinez, coming back from right elbow surgery, isn't ready to resume the regular catching duties, so he's expected to see time at first base and designated hitter in the season's final month.
But Kelly Shoppach's performance in Martinez's absence raises the question as to whether Martinez might see more consistent time at first base in 2009 and beyond.
Garko's not worried about that -- yet.
"In this game," Garko said, "things always work out. The at-bats will be there for everybody."
Still, it wouldn't hurt the 27-year-old Garko to make the most of the at-bats that remain in 2008, and he certainly seems to have gotten that message.
In 23 games in August, Garko is batting .307 (27-for-88) with five doubles, two homers and 20 RBIs. That's good for an .808 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) for the month.
"His focus has been on playing the way he needs to play," Wedge said. "His at-bats have been tougher, early and late in the game. We need him to be a run producer, and that's what we've been seeing."
Indeed, for all of Garko's struggles this year -- struggles that saw him notch just three extra-base hits from May 17 to July 12 -- he's already driven in more runs in 2008 (70) than he did in what was considered a successful '07 (61).
Some guys are just born to drive in runs, and that's always been Garko's specialty. He shortens his swing in two-strike or two-out situations if he thinks it will help him find a hole.
"Everybody's going to struggle from time to time, and I've had some stretches this year. ... But it's a long season, and if you keep your head down and keep going, you hope the numbers will be there in the end."
-- Ryan Garko
"I'll shorten up and take the blooper," Garko said. "You don't always need a double or home run. Sometimes you just need to get it through the infield. I've been blessed with the ability to handle the bat and adjust my swing."
But Garko hasn't been blessed with consistent results this season. And at one point, that hurt his ability to get consistent playing time. In July, he found himself losing quite a number of starts to Casey Blake, who was moved over from third to first so Andy Marte could get his first taste of regular action at third.
The lack of consistent time, which lingered until Blake was traded to the Dodgers on July 26, bothered Garko. And he was well aware Wedge was telling reporters the Indians would need quite a bit more from Garko than they were getting. It all added up to a big threat to Garko's job security.
"It was just frustrating," Garko said. "There's no way to get better when you're not playing and you're just sitting there. I had a lot of success in the past, and I know I can produce, but the hits weren't falling for me. I dug myself a deep hole."
Shortly after he emerged from that hole, Garko found himself a new place in Wedge's doghouse on Aug. 6.
If anybody should be running out ground balls, it's the guy who's hitting .239. Garko knew that. And that's why he was so bothered by what happened that day at Tropicana Field against the Rays, when he stood in the box as a grounder down the first-base line rolled from foul to fair for an easy out for the Rays.
Garko was immediately pulled from that game and held out of the next. The benching was brief, but the message got across.
"I made a mistake," Garko said. "It's over and done with."
Garko said he thinks what he's done in the time since is coincidental and not a direct result of the benching. Whatever the case, his performance of late has not only helped boost a Tribe club that's won 10 straight and 16 of 19, but also boosted his chances of keeping his job.
He is not the same guy he was at the end of 2006, but then again, he's not the guy he was in the middle of '08, either.
"Everybody's going to struggle from time to time, and I've had some stretches this year," Garko said. "That's the first time I've struggled like that. But it's a long season, and if you keep your head down and keep going, you hope the numbers will be there in the end."