The impact that Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha could make for St. Louis in the long-term was displayed the moment he arrived, when he limited the visiting Kansas City Royals to one run and two hits over seven calm and efficient innings in his Major League debut on May 30.
The impact that the 22-year-old phenom could make on the game itself, however, took center stage eight starts later in his final appearance of the regular season, when he no-hit the Nationals for 8 2/3 innings before allowing an infield single to Ryan Zimmerman – after the ball tipped off his glove.
By the end of that late-September evening, every baseball fan in the country knew who Wacha was, and everyone had made a Fozzie Bear joke at his expense.
Now, Red Sox followers know first-hand that this kid is no joke.
Wacha improved to 4-0 in the postseason after permitting just two runs on three hits with four walks and six strikeouts in six innings of work in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night. With that, the rookie’s ERA grew to 1.00 in the playoffs, thanks to David Ortiz’s fifth long ball of the month. Want to hear about his 0.70 WHIP?
We were all aware of Wacha’s potential when he held the Dodgers scoreless over 13 2/3 innings in a pair of matchups with soon-to-be two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw to garner NLCS MVP honors. But watching the former Texas A&M star’s stock rise in the Fall Classic was a sight to behold.
“The nerves weren’t too bad,” Wacha said after the win. “Just kind of anxious to get out there. I mean, it’s the World Series, a big time game. I just tried to use it to my advantage, to go out there to pitch with some adrenaline and stuff and just try to block out the fans and the crowd.”
It’s a wonder how.
With chants of, “Wa-cha…Wahhh-cha,” the Fenway faithful were all over the youngster from the opening pitch, and all he did was retire the Sox in order in the first inning with help from a pair of strikeouts. His fastball was hot and his changeup was filthy. Equally impressive, he worked quickly and deliberately. Wacha’s first time through the Boston order required 46 pitches, but he struck out four, walked one, and didn’t allow a hit. Did I mention he’s 22?
On the night several champion Red Sox were in attendance to throw out the first pitch, you’d think Wacha was the second-coming of Pedro Martinez – at least if you listened to the game broadcast. You’d also think he invented gravity, and was in line to cure cancer between starts. But, the hysteria aside, all that mattered was what he did on the mound.
The youngster ran into some trouble in the fourth inning when Dustin Pedroia doubled to open the frame and Ortiz followed that with a walk, but his second pitch to Mike Napoli induced a double-play ball, Jonny Gomes popped out, and the threat was over.
It seemed every little thing was not going to be all right.
That raucous “Wa-cha” hymn was never louder than just after he eclipsed the 100-pitch mark (he finished with a career-high 114). Ortiz was at the plate with one down, Pedroia on first, and the Red Sox trailing by one, as fans were on their feet anticipating a full-count pitch. The new Mr. October ticketed that offering into the first row of seats atop the Green Monster to put Boston ahead, albeit briefly, but Wacha appeared unfazed as he followed that game-changing moment with a strikeout of Napoli before he got Gomes to ground out.
A half-inning later, Boston's bullpen and defense put the St. Louis starter in line for the win.
“Kid continues to impress,” gushed Cardinals manager, Mike Matheny. “I don’t know what else you could ask. You put him on any stage and he does a real nice job of limiting the distractions. He and [Yadier Molina] work well together and make good adjustments along the way, but he stuck with his strengths and really went out and was aggressive.”
Short of scoring more runs than the Cardinals, Red Sox batters did their job. As per usual, they worked the pitch count against Wacha and fought their way to the bullpen relatively early, but young flame-throwers Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal were too much to handle.
The evening was fitting in a way. Wacha, the wide-eyed freshman, outdueled John Lackey on the very stage where the sage veteran made a name for himself back in 2002 as the winning pitcher for the Angels in Game 7 of the World Series at the age of 24. In the process, with his parents in attendance, Wacha became the second-youngest hurler to ever start the second game of this round, and he lived up to the hype. Really, he may have exceeded it.
Needless to say, Wacha has our attention. And the Red Sox', too.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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