Michael Wacha and John Lackey have taken much different paths to the Fenway Park mound for Thursday night's Game 2 of the World Series, but the magnitude of the moment isn't lost on either of them.
Wacha, the 22-year-old St. Louis Cardinals' rookie, may not be in this position had it not been for beloved superstar Albert Pujols bolting for the Los Angeles Angels following the team's championship in 2011.
The Cardinals, who used their compensation draft pick to select Wacha, couldn't be more impressed with how he's handled the postseason pressure - and the fanfare that's come along with his success.
Wacha (3-0, 0.43 ERA) has a 0.30 ERA while winning his last four starts dating back to his final outing of the regular season, when he was one out away from a no-hitter against Washington. The right-hander took a no-hitter into the eighth of a 2-1 Game 4 win over Pittsburgh with the Cardinals on the brink of elimination in the Division Series and tossed 6 2-3 innings of a 1-0 victory over Los Angeles in Game 2 of the NL championship series.
He then blanked the Dodgers through seven frames of a 9-0 win that clinched the pennant in Game 6.
"I'm just trying not to think too much about it, just trying to approach every game the same, trying not to get too caught up in the moment," said Wacha, who became the youngest NLCS MVP since 21-year-old Steve Avery with Atlanta in 1991. "I'm sure after the season, I'll be able to look back and think about, 'Hey, I pitched in the World Series,' and that kind of stuff. So, you know, right now just trying to get focused on the next start coming up and just go from there."
Lackey (2-0, 3.00) has been trying to block out distractions, too, but for much different reasons. He's been criticized often during his four years with Boston after signing a five-year, $82.5 million contract as a free agent following the 2009 campaign.
He posted a 4.40 ERA in 2010 and a career-worst 6.41 mark the next year before missing the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery. The right-hander went 10-13 with a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts this season, but he's coming off possibly his best outing after striking out eight in 6 2-3 innings of a 1-0 win over Detroit in Game 3 of the ALCS.
"I'm not really concerned about some of that outside stuff," Lackey said. "I know who I was in the clubhouse and where I stood with the guys in the clubhouse. That means more to me than anything. You want to be on a good team. You want to try to help out the boys. You want to pull your weight. And that's been fun this year."
Lackey, who has never faced St. Louis, will be taking the mound in the World Series for the first time since earning a 4-1 victory in Game 7 against San Francisco as a rookie in 2002 while pitching for the Angels. He's 3-1 with a 2.56 ERA in his last five postseason outings.
"This is a veteran with a lot of success in the past, including postseason success," manager John Farrell said. "Given the challenges he's come through in the time he's been in Boston, we're glad he's not only come back from Tommy John, but regained the form he had pre-injury."
Lackey will look to help the Red Sox win their 10th straight World Series contest after they earned an 8-1 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday. Their streak began when they swept the Cardinals in the 2004 Fall Classic.
Mike Napoli hit a bases-clearing double in the first inning, and David Ortiz added a two-run homer in the seventh.
Things went from bad to worse early for the Cardinals, who got their only run on a Matt Holliday homer in the ninth. Pete Kozma committed the first of his two errors by dropping an easily catchable ball while trying to complete a force play at second base in the first inning that opened the door for Napoli's hit, then Carlos Beltran was taken to the hospital after crashing into the right-field wall while robbing Ortiz of a grand slam in the second.
X-rays and a CT scan came back negative, and Beltran is in the lineup for Game 2.
''He's a huge player for us. Everybody knows that. We all know that,'' Game 1 loser Adam Wainwright said.
The Game 1 victor has gone on to win 21 of the last 25 World Series.