Wacha joining ranks of all-time postseason greats
Cards' rookie righty putting together one of the best playoff pitching performances
BOSTON -- Michael Wacha may be only 22 years old and he may have only nine Major League regular-season starts under his belt. But he is already putting together one of baseball's finest postseason pitching performances.
This may be rare air and lofty company for Wacha. But his already terrific postseason performance was bolstered by another winning outing on Thursday night in Game 2 of the 2013 World Series. Wacha and the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, to even the Series at one game apiece.
Wacha had three prior victories in this postseason, winning twice in the National League Championship Series against Los Angeles, in the process winning the NLCS MVP Award. He was 3-0 with an ERA of 0.43 in those three starts, with his other victory coming in the NL Division Series against Pittsburgh.
It is difficult to imagine any pitcher, much less a rookie, working at this level. Statistically, Thursday night's performance was the least impressive of Wacha's four postseason starts, but it was still good enough.
Wacha gave up two runs in six innings. Those runs came on a home run by David Ortiz, the opposite way over the Green Monster. This would have been a fly-ball out in some parks not named Fenway. In any case, these were the first runs Wacha had given up in 19 innings, since his victory in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Pirates.
But after four postseason starts, Wacha has an ERA of 1.00.
What Wacha probably needs to do to cement his status among the all-time postseason performances is to win one more decision in this World Series. But what he did more importantly in Game 2 was he gave his team a genuine chance to win and thus even the Series.
As an individual matter, though, Wacha is entering the realm of postseason pitching greatness. Here are examples of the best cumulative postseason performances from the expanded playoff era:
• Randy Johnson, D-backs, 2001: 5-1, 1.52 ERA
• Curt Schilling, D-backs, 2001: 4-0, 1:12 ERA
• Josh Beckett, Red Sox, 2007: 4-0, 1.20 ERA
• Cole Hamels, Phillies, 2008: 4-0, 1.80 ERA
All of these pitchers won the World Series MVP Award, or in the case of Johnson and Schilling, were co-MVPs. More to the point, all of their clubs were World Series winners.
Wacha's 4-0 record and 1.00 ERA obviously are in this neighborhood. In fact, he has been so good that what seemed different about his performance Thursday night was that he actually gave up a couple of runs.
|10/7||@ Pit.||NLDS 4||1||0||7 1/3||1||1||2||9||.043|
|10/12||L.A.||NLCS 2||1||0||6 2/3||5||0||1||8||.200|
|10/24||@ Bos.||WS 2||1||0||6||3||2||4||6||.150|
"I think it's a sign of how good the other starts were," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "The kid gave up three hits, one of them was a bloop. He gave up a couple of walks and just happened to give up the big hit. But I think that it appeared that way because he's been so sharp in the other ones, which I thought he was very sharp today as well.
"It was the timely hitting. The two-run home run there makes a difference behind a walk. But overall, you can't ask for much more from that kid, or anybody else."
Wacha, for his part, acknowledged this was his most difficult start of the postseason. But again, the rest of us need to remind ourselves that he gave up a grand total of one run in the other three starts, and that this fourth start was also a victory for both Wacha and the Redbirds.
"I didn't have my best stuff tonight," Wacha said. "Definitely a little bit more wild. Didn't have the command. I tried to let my defense be behind me and pitch to contact, and they made some great plays."
And Wacha was facing, after all, the American League champions. This is a tough Boston lineup, determined to drive up pitch counts against the best of pitchers and having the will and the ability to do that. Wacha had to throw 114 pitches to get through six innings.
"Yeah, definitely, credit to their lineup -- they battled me all night," Wacha said. "They weren't swinging down in the zone [where] I usually get swings at. They made me work out there. Got my pitch count up a lot higher than I wanted it to be. But I had to go out and battle and let my defense work behind me. They made great plays and got me out of innings pretty smoothly."
Red Sox manager John Farrell suggested that a pivotal point in the game may have been the fourth inning. After the Cardinals had taken a 1-0 lead, the Red Sox put two men on with none out. But Wacha got out of the inning cleanly, getting Mike Napoli to ground into a double play and retiring Jonny Gomes on a popup to second.
It was just one more instance of clutch pitching in a high-pressure, high-leverage situation by Wacha. This is no longer one of the best postseason performances by a rookie. This is becoming one of the best postseason performances by a Major League pitcher, period.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.