Cardinals ride Wacha's hot arm to Game 4 win over Pirates
St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Michael Wacha throws a pitch in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the National League Division Series at PNC Park. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)
Noticing Chris Carpenter fielding ground balls at short stop during batting practice the other day, we kidded the injured St. Louis Cardinals starter pitcher that his fielding ability brought back memories of Felipe Lopez.
And on Monday I saw a right-hander, who reminded me of Carpenter in his Cy Young award-winning prime.
“Oh, no, he’s much better than I was at that age,” Carpenter said, after right-hander Michael Wacha extended the Cardinals season with a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates to even the best-of-five National League Division Series before 40,493 at PNC Park.
The deciding game will be played at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Wednesday.
Wacha, 22, took a no-hit bit into the eighth inning before allowing a Pedro Alvarez homer. When Carpenter was 22, pitching for Cito Gaston, he was 3-7 in 13 starts for the 1997 Blue Jays.
“We’ve had some good drafts over the last few years, all three kids today weren’t scared pitching in here in this environment,” said Carpenter.
Following the Alvarez homer, Wacha walked Russell Martin. Manager Mike Matheny called on Carlos Martinez, 21. Josh Harrison pinch ran and was thrown out attempting to steal by Yadier Molina. Martinez then fanned pinch-hitter Jose Tabata to end the eighth.
And Cardinals reliever Wayne Rosenthal, 23, worked a 1-2-3-4 ninth — walking Neil Walker with two out — before getting Andrew McCutchen to pop up to end it.
“We’ve got Shelby Miller who is 22 and Seth Maness is only 24, these kids have so such confidence,” said Carpenter, “and half of them aren’t old enough to drink yet.”
To get serious about Wacha, 19th over-all pick in 2012 and first to start a post-season game less than two years after being drafted (Oakland A’s lefty Barry Zito in 2000 was the first) ...
Ralph Garr, Jr. the, Cards area scout, and others compared Wacha to current St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright.
“(Wacha) has a good four-seamer, an average curve and a real good change,” said Carpenter. “I’d say he’d be a cross between Pat Hentgen, who had a plus curve and an average change, Roy Halladay and I.
“Remember Roy and I weren’t real good when we broke in, we learned in the majors.”
Wacha is learning too and on the October stage. The biggest game of the Cardinals season was his 27th pro start and 10th in the majors. McCutchen was the only player in the Pirates starting lineup with a hit off of Wacha, who pitched seven scoreless in a start and had one two-inning relief appearance earlier this year. Bucs hitters were 3-for-30 against Wacha, the other hits to John Buck and Jody Mercer.
“We identified him very early leading up to the draft as a college arm we liked, but were told he’d be gone when our time came,” said Cards general manager John Mozeliak. “If I recall, he was little inconsistent near the end of his final year at Texas A&M and slid.”
A resident of Texarkana, Tex. — home of hall of famer Eddie Mathews — was 9-1 with a 2.06 ERA with 116 strikeouts in 1131/3 innings his draft year.
Due to Wacha’s college workload, Mozeliak created a new “entry-level” program limiting Wacha to two starts and 21 innings in 11 games with the rookie-class Gulf Coast Cardinals, class-A Palm Beach and double-A Springfield after he signed.
“I’ve stood in bullpens watching lots of guys throw, I’ve never seen a guy keep the ball so low,” said Carpenter. “He’s got intensity too ... like Gerrit Cole was for the Pirates the other night. It’s not fake for either.”
Wacha had nine strikeouts, including the final outs of the three innings, slapping his glove after getting McCutchen to end the first, Alvarez in the second and Starling Marte in the sixth.
Wacha was a compensation pick in the 2012 draft for the Cards, losing free-agent Albert Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels. Angry over Pujols’ departure, Cards fans are fine with the way things worked out.
Bucs starter Charlie Morton issued a four-pitch walk to Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday stilled the crowd, depositing a 2-2 pitch into the greenery behind the centre field fence, 417 feet away.
The walk and the blast were enough, with Wacha and the young‘uns on the mound.
COLE GETS THE CALL
It was an easy decision to make.
Pittsburgh Pirates Game 1 starter, A.J. Burnett, didn’t get an out in the third inning, allowing seven runs in a 9-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Bucs Game 2 starter Gerrit Cole allowed one run in six innings in a 7-1 Pirates win.
And so for Game 5 Wednesday at Busch Stadium, the Pirates will send Cole against the Cards ace, 19-game winner Adam Wainwright.
“We have one game to win,” manager Clint Hurdle told reporters. “As I’ve done and I’ve challenged the guys to do, we need to do the best we can to win that next game. I believe that is the best match up is the best to beat the Cardinals in Game 5.”
Burnett was not in the clubhouse after the decision was announced.
“Both were on their routines seeing how this would play out, eliminate any distractions either way,” said Hurdle. “It’s a difficult decision because (A.J.) has meant so much, we’ve asked so much of him while he’s been here. But for me, in this venue, in this game, Cole is going to be our guy.”
The Pirates are looking to win their first post-season series since 1979. Every active major-league team has won at least one series since then.
Until Pedro Alvarez went deep, the closest thing to a Pirates rally was a four-pitch walk Michael Wacha issued to Russell Martin leading off the sixth. The no-hit bid by Wacha, 96 pitches, 60 for strikes, was the longest by a rookie in post-season history.