For a major-league pitcher, it doesn’t get much bigger than this: starting a World Series game at Fenway Park when it’s an elimination game for your team.
Throw in the fact that St. Louis Cardinals starter Michael Wacha is a rookie with just 64 2/3 regular-season innings under his belt, and it’s pretty much the biggest moment of the 22-year-old’s life.
Wacha needs to pitch the game of his life, perhaps, to keep his team’s World Series hopes alive – except that he may have already done that, in the National League Division Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road, going 7 1/3 innings and surrendering just one hit.
Or was the game of his life in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, when Wacha tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits?
That’s the beauty of Wacha as he prepares to face the Boston Red Sox in Game Six of the 2013 World Series: he has the capability to keep wowing the crowd every time he’s out there. He’s 4-0 this October with a 1.00 ERA, absolutely stunning for a rookie starter.
He already beat the Sox at Fenway in Game Two of this Series, so he’s capable of doing it again: he made one mistake in that game, giving up a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the sixth inning, but you can bet Wacha learned from the experience.
His regular-season numbers only hinted at what has happened in October: he was 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA, and he only started nine times, working relief in six other times. But in September, Wacha was 2-1 with a 1.72 ERA, which included an 8 2/3-inning, one-hit effort against the Washington Nationals in his last start of the season.
And he’s continued that roll right into the playoffs, and now Wacha is the Cardinals’ last hope.
Wacha’s become the team ace, in essence, with regular number one starter Adam Wainwright taking two losses in this World Series now.
In a twist of interesting fate, the Cards’ rookie will be facing Boston’s John Lackey in Game Six, a veteran hurler who knows a little something about being a rookie on the biggest stage possible. (Lackey started and won Game Seven of the 2002 World Series as a rookie for the then-Anaheim Angels.)
The Red Sox starting staff has been the “MVP” of this championship series so far, posting Wacha-like numbers as a group, and Lackey obviously will not be rattled by the moment.
Every time Wacha takes the mound, experts have wondered if this is the time the rookie can’t handle the moment or the pressure – and he’s responded well every time.
On Wednesday night, his Cardinals will try to get the ball rolling to become the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to win Game Six and Game Seven on the road — since that October, six other teams have tried and failed to pull off the same road double at the end to claim a title.
History tells us not to count out the Cardinals, as what they did in Game Six of the 2011 Series should never fade from memory. Put Wacha and that kind of never-say-die mentality together, and St. Louis has a solid chance to match the 1979 Pirates’ feat.
But to do that, they first have to win Wednesday night, and that may come down to a rookie pitcher who just seems to be getting put on bigger stages every time out.