ST. LOUIS -- Just 15 months removed from being drafted, Michael Wacha nearly immortalized himself in St. Louis Cardinals history Tuesday night.
The rookie right-hander came within one out of the first no-hitter in the eight-year history of Busch Stadium III, victimizing the Washington Nationals in a 2-0 win that put St. Louis another step closer to the National League Central title.
Wacha (4-1), the 19th overall pick in last year's draft out of Texas A&M, overpowered Washington most of the night, fanning nine and walking two in just his ninth big league start. It would have been the 11th no-hitter in club history and the first since another rookie, Bud Smith, did it to San Diego on Sept. 3, 2001.
With the crowd of 38,940 in full roar during the ninth, Wacha retired pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi on a bouncer to short, then slipped a called third strike past Denard Span. But Ryan Zimmerman chopped the first pitch off Wacha's glove, and shortstop Pete Kozma's hurried throw wasn't in time, giving Zimmerman an infield hit.
Trevor Rosenthal relieved Wacha, whose pitch count was at 112, and retired Jayson Werth on a grounder to first for his second save in as many night.
The Cardinals (93-65) moved 2 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh and three games in front of Cincinnati, reducing their magic number over the Pirates to three.
Gio Gonzalez (11-8) took the loss for Washington (84-74) despite allowing just six hits and two runs in seven solid innings, fanning seven.
St. Louis grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third when Shane Robinson punched a two-out single up the middle to score Matt Carpenter, who doubled. It was Carpenter's franchise-record 55th double and major-league-high 125th run.
The Cardinals made it 2-0 an inning later when Yadier Molina laced an RBI double to the right-center-field wall, scoring Matt Adams. Manager Mike Matheny rolled the dice with a hit-and-run on the 3-2 pitch with two slow-footed players, and Molina rewarded him with his 42nd double.
Meanwhile, Washington did nothing for five innings with Wacha. He retired the first 14 men he faced, striking out seven, before Adam LaRoche reached on Carpenter's two-out error. The only hard-hit ball in the first five innings was Wilson Ramos' liner to right fielder Carlos Beltran that ended the fifth.
NOTES: St. Louis LF Matt Holliday (back tightness) was sidelined for a third straight game and replaced by Shane Robinson. Holliday hasn't played since Saturday night in Milwaukee, and his status for Wednesday's series finale isn't clear. ... Washington RHP Tanner Roark not only took his first major league loss Monday night, but also allowed his first homer in the bigs to Beltran. Roark had worked 45 1/3 homer-free innings. ... St. Louis 1B Allen Craig (foot) is scheduled to undergo more testsThursday to figure out if he might be able to contribute to the team during postseason play. Craig, who hasn't played since being injured Sept. 4 in Cincinnati, leads the Cardinals with 97 RBIs.