Michael Wacha may never make St. Louis Cardinals fans forget Albert Pujols, but he sure hasn't made them wait long for a return on their investment.
Making just his ninth major league start, the Cardinals' 2012 first-round selection (and compensatory pick for Pujols) nearly threw his first career no-hitter Tuesday night, blanking the Washington Nationals in a 2-0 victory at Busch Stadium.
It just so happens Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman wanted to play the spoiler. With two outs and Wacha one batter away from history, Zimmerman hit a meek ground ball toward shortstop. Wacha leaped to get the ball, but the hustling Zimmerman dashed safely into first base.
He was subsequently replaced by Trevor Rosenthal, who got Jayson Werth to hit into a fielder's choice to end the game.
Wacha allowed only four baserunners the entire night, and just three of his own doing. An error by second baseman Matt Carpenter ended all hopes of a perfect game bid in the top of the fifth, and Wacha walked Ryan Zimmerman and Adam Laroche in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively.
Otherwise, he was flawless.
The 22-year-old righty mowed through the Nationals' formidable offense with ease, striking out five batters in the first three innings and regularly forcing weak ground-ball outs. Although his strikeout rate went down, finishing with nine total, the quicker at-bats allowed Wacha to get through the order with less wear and tear on his arm. He threw just 112 pitches, 77 of them going for strikes.
Instead, he joins Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Yusmeiro Petit of the Giants as pitchers to lose no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning. According to Katie Sharp, this is the first time in over two decades that at least three pitchers have lost no-hitters so late.
Wacha's near-miss also means the 2013 season could finish with just two no-hitters, the lowest total in MLB since 2009. Last season, major league pitchers tied the all-time record by recording seven no-nos.
Highly touted coming out of Texas A&M, Wacha quickly vaulted his way up the team's farm system. He mowed his way through lower-class ball during his rookie campaign, allowing him to begin 2013 already in Triple-A. His big-league debut came as a spot starter in May and June before finally getting the full-time call in August.
In 14 total appearances, Wacha has compiled a 4-1 record with a 2.78 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
Wacha's near no-hit performance also came at a critical time for the Cardinals. St. Louis came into Tuesday night's game holding a two-game lead over the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central. The Reds lost Tuesday night, putting them in dire straits for the division race, while Pittsburgh kept its hopes alive by beating the Chicago Cubs.
Although all involved are likely disappointed that Wacha couldn't quite pull off the no-no, it's safe to say the Cards are satisfied with the win.
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