If the St. Louis Cardinals are going to save their season by winning Game 6 of the World Series, Michael Wacha is going to have to pitch better than he did in his last start. And all he did that time was win.
Wacha, a 22-year-old rookie who is not quite yet 18 months removed from being drafted, has been the breakout star of this postseason and unquestionably October's best pitcher. So far this month, the 6'6" right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts against just 11 hits and nine walks allowed in the first 27 postseason innings of his still-young career.
For all those reasons, he's exactly the guy the Cardinals want and need on the mound for Wednesday's Game 6 back in Boston after they dropped Game 5 by a score of 3-1 on Monday, putting St. Louis' season on the brink.
Not to mention, Wacha beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Game 2 last Thursday. And yet he'll need to be even better than he was on that night, when he only allowed three hits and two runs.
That's because when he walked off the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning, Wacha actually was trailing 2-1 and in line for the loss after surrendering a two-run homer to David Ortiz, who has since been more or less impossible for Cardinals pitchers to get out.
The Cardinals offense not only saved Wacha from the loss but helped him get the win by scoring three runs in the top of the seventh to pull out the 4-2 victory.
It's tough, however, to imagine that scenario playing out again. Not when those three runs were scored as a result of two errors on one play—a missed catch on a throw from the outfield by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia followed by an ill-advised throw to third base by reliever Craig Breslow.
And not when St. Louis' hitters continue to look downright overmatched at the dish. Through 16 playoff contests, as a team, the Cards are hitting—get this—.213/.281/.318 and have scored just 3.4 runs per game. Among teams that made it to at least the division series round this month, that's the second-lowest on-base percentage and slugging percentage as well as the lowest batting average.
Through the first five games of the Fall Classic, the Cardinals are doing even worse: .218/.274/.303 and 2.6 runs per.
Granted, Red Sox hitters haven't been any better—.205/.268/.317—but they've made their knocks count, having crossed the plate 21 times compared to the Cardinals' 13.
Besides, it's Boston that's only one more win from its third World Series championship in 10 years, meaning Wacha and St. Louis have absolutely no margin for error. Especially when you consider this:
Or the fact that Wacha's counterpart on Wednesday night will be John Lackey. Lackey may have lost Game 2, but he hurled 6.1 innings of three-run ball with five hits and six whiffs. For the season, the 35-year-old veteran compiled a snappy 2.47 ERA at home, good for 13th best in baseball per FanGraphs.
That's not to say Wacha can't win yet again in Game 6 and get St. Louis to a winner-take-all, anything-goes seventh game.
Wacha certainly has the mindset, the stuff and the results so far this October to be the right man for the job of keeping his team's season—and title hopes—alive. But let's not forget that he's only a rookie, only 22 years old, with only 91.2 career big league innings to his name between the regular and postseason. Or that he'll be pitching on the road against a Red Sox team and pitcher who have been forces at Fenway all year long.
Indeed, Game 6 will be another chance for Wacha to cement his 2013 postseason as one of the greatest in history, another chance for him to capture the moment and not let it get too big for him.
Wednesday night will be Wacha's biggest and toughest moment since his last one. Only this time, he'll have to be even better.
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