(BaseballStL) — As he continues to battle adaptation and counterattacks in his young career, Michael Wacha has one thing down.
He does not get overwhelmed.
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The 22-year-old demonstrated his propensity for calm when he pitched like a seasoned pro in 2013’s postseason, and he has continued to build a level-headed reputation since.
Tuesday, in a game with the Mets that was more important than it may have seemed, Wacha once again showed the poise of a much older player.
After a solo homer from each side kept the game knotted, the big righty found himself in trouble in the fifth. A two-out single was immediately followed by a double, and the tie was precariously in the balance.
"We talked about it before the game,” Wacha said at his locker. “Whenever guys are on base, make sure you calm down. Don’t let the situation get too big on you.”
After getting ahead 0-2 on Daniel Murphy, Wacha had two pitches spoiled by foul balls. He dealt back-to-back pitches out of the zone, and he and Molina had a conference on the mound. Murphy had seen six change ups in seven pitches, and there was a base open. Wacha needed to make a pitch, and there was little doubt which one he would favor.
“I don’t think there’s many right-handers with a better change up than what Michael has and I think that’s accepted league-wide,” Mike Matheny said to reporters after the game. “We’ve got some good lefty change ups in the league, but as far as a straight change up from a right hander, Mike’s gotta be up there.”
Sure enough, Wacha pulled the string and Murphy swung at a ball that hit the dirt and skipped up to Molina’s chest. The Gold Glover absorbed the ricochet and calmly threw to first to end the inning.
A different sophomore pitcher may have second-guessed himself when aiming low with the go-ahead run 90 feet away, but Wacha’s poise and comfort with his backstop showed through.
“It’s not in the back in of my mind at all, throwing a ball down in the dirt with Yadi behind the plate or Cruz behind the plate,” he said. “We’ve got two great catchers and with those guys on third base, I have all the confidence in the world to make my pitch down in the zone and for them to block it.”
In the sixth, Wacha had another dicey situation on his hands when David Wright began things with a double. It was Wright’s second hit of the night, the first being the equalizing homer in the fourth.
After a line out to center by Bobby Abreu, Wacha put Lucas Duda on with a walk. Another line out to center followed, and Wright took third.
Ruben Tejada’s first swing sent a ball screaming to right, but it fell just on the right side of the line. With a few inches between a 3-1 game and a 2-1 game, a lesser pitcher may have been rattled.
Instead, Wacha punctuated the inning with a strikeout again, dodging the damage.
“I hadn’t been doing that in the last few starts,” he said. “It was definitely those walks and just not making pitches with guys in scoring position. I tried to make that a big emphasis tonight. Whenever those guys were in scoring position just trying to slow the game down and trying to make my pitch in those situations.”
When the Cardinals had men on first and third themselves in the bottom half, Kolten Wong pinch-hit for Wacha.
He closed the game with just 92 pitches, striking out seven and allowing five hits. Three of the strikeouts came with men in scoring position.
“He had to make pitches,” Mike Matheny said. “He’s got the swing and miss stuff. When he gets into a deep count we know he can get back into with his change up and the fastball that guys have trouble picking up and that gets him out of big innings.”