(AP) — The last time Michael Wacha was seen at AT&T Park, he surrendered the walkoff homer that eliminated the St. Louis Cardinals from the NLCS.
The stakes won’t be nearly as high Friday night when Wacha goes for a share of the major league lead in wins against the San Francisco Giants.
Wacha’s only playoff appearance last year came with the score tied in the ninth inning of Game 5 at San Francisco. The right-hander, who had shoulder trouble in the regular season, served up a three-run blast to light-hitting Travis Ishikawa in a 6-3 loss.
Wacha (15-4, 2.80 ERA) and the Cardinals (82-45) sure look like they’ve put that behind them. St. Louis owns the best record in baseball and Wacha is one win shy of matching Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner for the major league lead.
Wacha is 4-0 with a 1.09 ERA in his last five starts, a stretch that includes St. Louis’ 2-1 home win over the Giants on Aug. 17. He allowed one run in seven innings and didn’t get a decision while San Francisco went on to take two of three in that series.
Wacha followed that up six days later by yielding one run in six innings of a 10-3 win at San Diego.
“He’s been very consistent for us. He’s done a terrific job,” manager Mike Matheny told MLB’s official website. “I didn’t think he had his top stuff (Sunday), missed a lot high and out of the zone, which didn’t really allow his changeup to have its effectiveness that it normally has.
“He pitched with heart more than anything, and figured out a way to get outs in tough counts.”
The Cardinals have put together an 11-4 stretch on the road, winning five straight with Thursday’s 5-3 victory at Arizona.
They haven’t had a longer streak away from home since a seven-gamer from April 22-May 5, 2013.
The Giants (68-59), 2 1/2 games back of the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, cruised to a 9-1 rout of the Chicago Cubs on Thursday for their 15th win in 18 home games. Rookie Kelby Tomlinson hit his first grand slam and Marlon Byrd added a three-run shot.
Tomlinson has been a pleasant surprise, hitting .346 in 20 games since being called up from Triple-A Sacramento to replace the injured Joe Panik (back).
“It was pretty crazy. Everybody got up and started clapping for me,” Tomlinson said. “I’d never experienced anything like that. It’s pretty special.”
He went 4 for 10 in three games at St. Louis last week.
Mike Leake (9-6, 3.44) makes his third start for the Giants and first at AT&T Park for his new team. The right-hander allowed one run and one hit over six innings before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday after missing nearly three weeks with a hamstring injury.
“What a job he did for us in his first start back,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He gave us what we were hoping for.”
Leake should feel very comfortable pitching in San Francisco, where he went 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA in his last four starts for Cincinnati. He walked five and struck out 26 over 31 innings in those games.
He’s split six decisions with a 2.81 ERA in his past seven starts against the Cardinals, tossing four-hit ball over eight innings in a 4-0 victory with the Reds on July 28.
Updated August 28, 2015