Rookie Wacha shaves the beards
Rising star gets win in first World Series start despite not having his best stuff
BOSTON -- If 22-year-old Michael Wacha was fighting nerves before the first World Series start of his whirlwind rookie season, he did not show it.
"He's a machine," Cardinals pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said. "It's unbelievable."
The unbelievable has been routine in this postseason for the restrained right-hander, who is making it look way too easy for a guy 16 months removed from pitching in college. Undaunted by the bright lights of baseball's biggest stage, Wacha delivered six innings and held the Red Sox to two runs on three hits, including David Ortiz's pop-fly home run over the Green Monster, and was rewarded with the win when his Cards rallied for a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the Series on Thursday.
It was business as usual and baseball history, all at the same time.
• Between Pedro Alvarez's home run in Game 4 of the National League Division Series and Ortiz's sixth-inning homer on Thursday, Wacha worked 19 consecutive scoreless innings, matching Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for the longest postseason scoreless streak in Cardinals history.
• Wacha is just the 17th pitcher in history to log at least four wins in a single postseason, and the first since teammate Chris Carpenter in 2011.
• At 22 years, 116 days old, Wacha is the 17th-youngest pitcher to win a World Series game, and the youngest since 21-year-old Madison Bumgarner beat the Rangers in 2010.
Dating back to his final start of the regular season, in which Wacha lost a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning, he has allowed only three runs and struck out 37 batters in 35 2/3 innings.
"I was just kind of anxious to get out there," Wacha said in a typically subdued postgame news conference. "It's the World Series, big-time game, so I just tried to use it to my advantage to go out and pitch with some adrenaline and just try to block out the fans and the crowd.
|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 didn't have my best stuff tonight. 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."
The Red Sox did their part to challenge Wacha, working four walks and coaxing 114 pitches -- a new career high for Wacha. But each time they threatened, Wacha escaped, most notably in the fourth inning, when Dustin Pedroia led off with a double and Ortiz walked.
Wacha calmly induced a double play from Mike Napoli, then a popout from Jonny Gomes to strand a runner at third and preserve a 1-0 lead.
"It doesn't really change my approach from these past few starts I've had, but yeah, they definitely do battle," Wacha said. "They don't swing at bad pitches, really. You've got to throw effective pitches in the zone, and if you make a mistake, they'll make you pay. They did a good job tonight grinding out at-bats with me and got the pitch count up."
The respect was mutual.
"Probably the pitch of the night was the ground-ball double play to Napoli," said Red Sox manager John Farrell. "We get a first-and-second situation, nobody out, with seemingly a chance to build an inning, [then a] ground-ball double play and a popup to Gomes to get out of the inning.
"[He has] a very good changeup, maintained his stuff throughout the game. I thought we pressed him in terms of building the pitch count, and giving ourselves opportunities. ... He was impressive. They pitched well tonight."
Wacha has been pitching well for a while.
Lilliquist expects it to continue.
"The expectation is that we do what we do, and we're not going to let the distractions disrupt what we do," Lilliquist said. "You have to keep it in perspective. At the end of the day, you have to do what you always do to get outs."
"He's been incredible," said center fielder Jon Jay. "We saw a glimpse of it in Spring Training when it was his first time around -- us and a lot of guys were saying he could pitch right now in the big leagues. He went down to the Minors, didn't pout, worked hard, came back and has been outstanding. He has been huge."
The only blemish Thursday came courtesy of Ortiz, who hit a high changeup over the Green Monster in left field for a two-run home run and a short-lived 2-1 Red Sox lead.
"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."