With his team facing elimination from the NLDS, St. Louis Cardinals rookie Michael Wacha turned in an absolute gem on Monday afternoon at PNC Park to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1, and even the series at two games apiece.
Cardinals snap their 4-game postseason ROAD losing streak, force Game 5 of NLDS with win vs Pirates— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2013
The 22-year-old Wacha was perfect through five and gave up no hits through 7.1 innings before Pedro Alvarez eventually ended the youngster's bid at history with a late solo home run.
Still, Wacha finished with a spectacular line: 7.1 innings, one hit, two walks, one earned run, nine strikeouts and the all-important "W" after a few more youngsters—Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal—were terrific in relief.
ESPN Stats & Info shared this telling fact:
The 1 hit allowed by the Cardinals was the fewest they've ever allowed in a postseason game— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2013
Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan talked about the significance of the Cards' youngsters' performances:
Cards threw a one-hitter in a must-win road game with three homegrown rookie pitchers who are 22, 22 and 23. Best organization in baseball.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 7, 2013
Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton was able to keep pace with Wacha through five innings. But while he kept the Cardinals off the scoreboard, it was pretty clear early on that he wasn't nearly as sharp as the St. Louis youngster.
Finally, in the sixth inning, one of his four walks came back to hurt him. After putting Carlos Beltran on first to start the inning, Morton served up a 2-2 pitch to Matt Holliday, who crushed it over the center-field fence to give the Cardinals the 2-0 lead:
Morton was removed shortly thereafter. He gave up three hits, four walks and two runs in 5.2 innings while striking out four.
Two runs seemed like an insurmountable lead against Wacha, who looked unhittable for the second start in a row, but Pittsburgh would eventually rally in front of a fired-up crowd in Pittsburgh.
After Wacha struck out Marlon Byrd to start the eighth, Alvarez crushed a 3-1 pitch to cut St. Louis' lead in half. ESPN Stats & Info noted the historical significance for the white-hot Alvarez:
Pedro Alvarez: 2nd player to have an RBI in each of the first 5 postseason games of his career. Other is Nomar Garciaparra— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 7, 2013
Martinez came on in place of Wacha to get the Cards out of the eighth inning, though, and Rosenthal subsequently got MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen to pop out to end a nail-biting ninth inning and preserve the series-extending victory.
As MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch pointed out, the win was quite the exhibition of youth from the Cardinals with their backs against the wall:
The #STLCards going from one 22 yr old (Wacha) to another 22 yr old (Martinez) to another 22 yr old (Rosenthal) in a must-win game.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) October 7, 2013
Michael Wacha, Cardinals: A
Wacha may have lost his no-hitter, but remember: This is a 22-year-old who was making his first career postseason start, in an elimination game no less—and he struck out nine and gave up one measly hit over seven-plus innings.
Who wins Game 5?
Just let that sink in.
After losing a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning in his very last start, Wacha has now allowed two hits and four walks while striking out 18 over his last 16.0 innings.
Wacha Wacha, indeed.
Charlie Morton, Pirates: B-
Morton admirably dueled with Wacha for a while, but his walk total and high pitch count eventually did him in. He ran out of gas in the fifth inning and gave up the game-deciding hit to Holliday.
Overall, it was a so-so performance.
You have to give Morton credit for limiting a dangerous Cardinals lineup to just three hits, but he picked a terrible time to start losing command.
After giving up 1.6 free passes per start in his first 19 outings of the season, Morton has now walked nine in just 10.0 innings over his last two starts.
If the Pirates are able to advance to the NLCS, Morton needs to relocate his control.
Matt Holliday, Cardinals: A
Coming into the game just 2-for-12 with one extra-base hit in the series, Holliday wasn't exactly earning himself many fans.
With one swing of the bat, however, he ended the pitcher's duel, made sure Wacha's brilliant performance didn't go to waste and helped St. Louis extend its season.
The pivotal Game 5 from St. Louis will be on Wednesday at 5:07 p.m. ET. Adam Wainwright is scheduled to take the mound against rookie Gerrit Cole, who is replacing A.J. Burnett, per Karen Price at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.