BOSTON — Does Michael Wacha have one more great game in him? If he doesn't, the St. Louis Cardinals won't have another game either.
Backs against the wall, heading into Wednesday's World Series Game 6, the Cardinals are once again turning to their 22-year-old rookie, who has been as good a pitcher in baseball this postseason — with a 1.00 ERA and a 4-0 record.
He won a do-or-die NLDS game in his first start, he beat Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw twice in the NLCS en route to the series MVP award, then he came into Fenway Park in Game 2 of the World Series and didn't crack, giving the Cardinals their first win.
Now, he'll have to do it again. If he can pitch well enough for the Cardinals to win, this series is going to Game 7. If not, the Boston Red Sox will win their third World Series in the past 10 years and clinch in Boston for the first time since 1918.
Don't bet on the latter just because Wacha is 22. He has been unfazed as each stage grew bigger and every moment became more important. Maybe he's shaking on the inside, but on the outside he's unflappable.
"Just try not to let the moment get too big," Wacha said Monday night, after the Cardinals' Game 5 loss in St. Louis, as if he were reciting his credo for postseason composure. "Stay within myself and go out there and make some pitches."
Wacha's teammates, meanwhile, are talking about him like he's their longtime ace, the guy who's been there in every big game for years, not a guy who was pitching in college a year and a half ago.
"Same confidence we have in [Adam] Wainwright," Carlos Beltran said of Wacha. "Having him on the mound is a great feeling."
Said second baseman Matt Carpenter: "We’re going to come out with all of the confidence in the world in him and hopefully we can score some runs for him. The goal is Game 7."
They all remember what Wacha did in his last elimination game. It was something at which to marvel. He took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He finished with nine strikeouts, giving up one hit and one run. He gave up only two hits in seven innings, winning the Cardinals' clincher in the NLCS, in which they shutout the Dodgers 9-0.
"It seems like with every situation that everybody tries to build up around him, the better he pitches," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "So right now, we're just anticipating him to stay the course, do what he's been doing and hope his stuff will be good enough. I believe that it will, with what he's been doing."
You can believe Wacha knows the stakes. He knows how much rests on him. And how much the entire city of Boston is rooting for him to fail. There will be "Wa-cha" chants and anything else the Red Sox Nation can think of to throw the youngster off his game.
"I imagine it's going to be crazy," Wacha said, "but I'm not going to pay any attention to it. I'll keep going about my business the way I have been in all my starts this year.
"We know the next two games are must-wins. It all starts with me."
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