St. Louis Cardinals' Michael Wacha's Gem Caps off Stellar 15-Month Run

Corey Noles@@coreynolesCorrespondent ISeptember 25, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 24:  Starter Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Washington Nationals in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 24, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Wacha did not allow a hit until in the ninth inning.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha was inches away from history Tuesday evening in St. Louis. While he fell a bit short that night, his race to the big leagues was borderline historic already.

Wacha’s rise to the majors was a fast one—very fast.

Born in Iowa and raised in Texas as one of four children born to Tom and Karen Wacha, his passion for baseball began at a very young age.

“I was born and raised around baseball,” Wacha said Thursday morning as he relaxed at his locker before the game. “My dad was always coaching from tee-ball up.”

He grew up watching the Cubs but never thought as a child he would one day play on a major league field. A run like his prior 15 months wasn’t even on the radar.

“I was just doing it for fun then, but I finally started thinking maybe I could play college ball,” he said. “It wasn’t until my sophomore or junior year of high school that I realized I might be able to take it to the next level.”

Growing up in Texas, the opportunity to play for Texas A&M was one he truly cherished. Despite following them when he was young, the offers weren’t flying in like he had hoped they would be.

“I didn’t really have a lot of scholarship offers, so A&M was really one of my only choices,” Wacha said. “It was a great experience, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to play there.”

Wacha was quick to credit his time in college with where he refined his skills.

“I wouldn’t be here today otherwise,” he said. “There’s not a doubt in my mind.”

Wacha was regularly recognized for his efforts in college, and he was named a Baseball America third-team All-American.

One game in college ended up eerily similar to his near-no-hitter on Monday.

“In my junior year, I had a perfect [game] going into the eighth and then dropped a third strike and our catcher threw it to right field,” he said. “There went the perfect game. Then the next hit was off my glove.”

He made it through nine innings without giving up a run on Monday but laughed about the similarity.

When he was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round of 2012, Wacha said he was ready to make things happen. And that he did.

“The goal was to come out, sign quick and just start throwing,” he said. “I don’t think I could have ever imagined getting up here this quick and being in the postseason. It’s really crazy to think about it.”

In the minor leagues—what little time he was there—Wacha made a mere 26 appearances on the mound, 17 of which were starts. He had a 2.29 ERA with 113 strikeouts and held batters to a .193 average.

His time there was brief compared to other pitchers his age, who have spent three years or more in the system before getting their chance.

The night of his MLB debut was one he will never forget for a number of reasons—neither will anyone who attended or covered the game.

An interleague matchup against the Kansas City Royals, some 40 members of Wacha’s family had flown in to St. Louis to watch the game.

His performance was impressive. The weather, however, was not so impressive. In the ninth inning, a monsoon of rain seemed to envelop the stadium, forcing fans and players to shelter.

Due to the changes in interleague play enacted this season, rescheduling wasn’t an option. The game had to be played.

“It was an unbelievable night,” he said. “My family and I were all waiting to go eat after the game, so they were all asleep by the time our game was over.”

Now that a few months have passed, he’s able to look back on it and laugh, because he will have plenty more in the years to come.

His first season has had its ups and downs. He continued to show maturity and growth as well as development of his pitches.

Through nine career major league starts and a combined 15 appearances, Wacha has a 2.78 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 64.2 innings pitched. In that period, he has surrendered only 20 earned runs.

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 19:  Starting pitcher Michael Wacha #52 of the St. Louis Cardinals delivers against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on September 19, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Right now, his focus is on helping his team reach October.

“That’s what last night was all about,” Wacha said. “The main focus was just go out there and get a win for the team in the stretch.”

Now, it’s time to begin preparing for the postseason, and for the most part, he’s not doing anything different.

“A lot of these guys have been in the postseason, so I’ve just been talking to them and seeing how it is,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. This is when the fun starts.”

All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.