(BaseballStL) -- For being a 22-year-old rookie, Michael Wacha already has experience pitching in a win-or-go-home game on the road.
Wacha rose to the occasion when he allowed one run over 7 1/3 innings in a 2-1 win in Game 4 of the NLDS in Pittsburgh. The one run came on a Pedro Alvarez solo shot in the eighth, which also ruined his no-hit bid. More importantly, the win kept the Cardinals’ season alive to force a decisive Game 5, which was won in St. Louis.
Once again, the Cardinals turn to the rookie to keep their season alive in Wednesday’s must-win Game 6 of the World Series against the Red Sox. The Cardinals hope the experience of the NLDS’ Game 4 will aid Wacha in his bid for a fifth postseason win this year.
“I mean that gives me a little experience pitching in an elimination game, but I’m just going to go out there and try and get a win for this club,” Wacha said. “That’s what we need going on all out.”
After beating the Red Sox in Boston to even the series 1-1, the Cardinals aren’t worried about Wacha having any jitters when he takes the mound with his team now down a game in the series.
“Same confidence we have in Wainwright,” Carlos Beltran said. “I think having him on the mound is a great feeling.”
Matt Carpenter added, “I’m not worried about Michael Wacha and him being ready to go. He’s going to be ready to go. He’s going to be confident. The fact that we’re facing an elimination game on the road is not going to get to him.”
There’s two things that could get to Wacha in Game 6: David Ortiz and a lackluster supporting offense from St. Louis.
Game 5 starter Adam Wainwright called Ortiz ‘out-of-his-mind hot right now.’ That was after Ortiz went 3-for-4 to raise his World Series average to .733 (11-for-15) and give the Red Sox the series lead heading back to Boston.
Wainwright said it was his decision to not walk the 37-year-old slugger in Game 5. It backfired when he doubled in the opening frame to give Boston the 1-0 lead on Monday.
Here’s a telling stat through the first five games of the World Series: Ortiz is batting .733 (11-for-15) with six RBI. The rest of the Red Sox are batting .151 (22-for-146) with 15 RBI.
“I can't really tell you my plan on how I'm going to pitch him,” Wacha said. “But, yeah, he's a great hitter. He's a tough out, that's for sure. I guess we'll see how I pitch him (Wednesday).”
Second, the Cardinals’ offense.
Unlike the Red Sox, the Cardinals do not have an insanely hot hitter, but like them as a whole, they aren’t hitting squat this series.
Collectively, the Cardinals are hitting better than the Red Sox with a .218 average (36-for-165) compared to .205 (33-for-161). Both teams are almost equal in terms of hitting with runners in scoring position, too. The Red Sox are 8-for-32 (.250) and the Cardinals are slightly behind at 8-for-33 (.242).
“Any run you can squeeze across is huge right now,” Wainwright said. “Two very tough teams...quality pitchers on both sides going out there and battling so if you can get a run, they’re going to do whatever they can do.”
Despite these two key offensive stats, the Red Sox lead in runs, 21 to 13.
While St. Louis pitching has been strong, the Boston arms have been that much stronger. The Cardinals’ sit at a 3.48 ERA compared to the Red Sox’s 2.01. It’s here that the series is being won.
“They’re executing pitches, no doubt about that,” Beltran said. “I think we’re not having consistent at-bats. I think when we’re consistent at the plate we put ourselves in position where we work the counts and things like that right now. We’re not having consistent at-bats, but at the same time you got to give credit to the opposing pitchers.”
It’s seemingly been a pitcher-friendly postseason. Of the four teams to advance to at least the League Championship Series, the Cardinals lead the way with a 2.69 ERA in 16 games and the Red Sox barely trailing at 2.70 through 15 games. The two losers in the LCS, the Tigers and Dodgers, finished with ERAs of 2.81 and 3.19, respectively.
Even in the World Series, the players are still trying to adjust to the pitcher-friendly strike zone.
“I would say that. I wouldn’t say the zone has been bad, but I would say that more often than not it’s gone the pitcher’s way from both sides,” Carpenter, who is 16-for-64 (.188) this postseason, said. “On defense, we’ve gotten some calls that could be borderline but it has gone the pitcher’s way. Pitchers have dominated this postseason. That’s the way it goes.”
Although the Cardinals have lost the last two games, there is some good news to share.
St. Louis has trailed 3-2 in the World Series six times. In those occurrences, the Cardinals have forced a Game 7 five times, and have gone on to win all five of those series.
The last time came in the 2011 World Series when St. Louis beat the Rangers in seven.
“Last time we were coming home so that was a little bit different,” Allen Craig said. “I think our guys are going to see it as a good challenge. That’s how we’ve dealt with a lot of different things. It’s going to be tough. We just got to take it one game at a time. Anything can happen, we can do it.”
The venue for Game 6 and a possible Game 7 will be different than in 2011, but the confidence doesn’t change.
“We have great confidence in our team no matter where we’re playing whether we won a game there before or not,” Wainwright said. “We know we can go in anywhere and win some games.
“This will be legendary when we go into Boston and win two games. It starts with Game 6.”
Scott Bierman covers the Cardinals for KMOV.com and the BaseballStL mobile app. You can follow him on Twitter @Scott_Bierman for St. Louis sports news and notes.