(BaseballStL) — Save for a couple of leadoff walks, it’s hard to imagine how Michael Wacha could have pitched any better.
The 22-year-old climbed the proverbial wall of worry, putting aside such distractions as the moving tribute to the 1964 World Series Champion Cardinals, a ceremony honoring the retiring Derek Jeter, national television, a one hour rain delay and the traveling circus that is the New York Yankees, throwing just 84 pitches in seven innings, pounding 57 of them in for strikes in the 6-4 extra inning loss Monday.
“The weather didn’t bother me. They told me in plenty of time there would be a delay so I just pushed back my preparation," he said. "I’m really not sure why we started the game when it was raining. But it wasn’t a factor.”
It was Wacha's fourth rain-delayed start, but manager Mike Matheny agreed with the young starter, saying it can't be blamed for a troubled first.
"You never discredit anything that could have a bearing on how they play, how they throw, but he’s been in that situation before," the manager said. "He’s pitched in the rain and he can get outs."
Wacha’s start did not foretell the effectiveness he would show. A leadoff walk to Brett Gardner and back-to-back singles by Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury saw the Redbirds trail 1-0 with early trouble deepening. But Brian McCann grounded into a double play and Wacha extricated himself and the Cards from what could have been serious trouble with just that lone tally.
“The Yankees came out swinging so I knew I had to make better pitches,” he said after the game. “I’ve been really trying to be more efficient with my pitches. At the beginning of the year I was throwing 100 pitches in 5 innings. I wanted to be more efficient, last longer and still make quality pitches. “
He settled down nicely and from there until the fifth inning, Wacha retired 11 in a row before New York threatened again, this time as the result of another lead-off walk.
Ichiro Suzuki worked the 22-year-old for a free pass before Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson singled, plating Suzuki. But Wacha again proved resilient, surrendering just a sacrifice fly to shut down the Yanks with just two runs in an inning that was shaping up to be much worse.
“I think I was effective, but those two lead-off walks came around to score like they almost always do. I gave up too many runs.”
Wacha gave up just four hits, recording 10 ground ball outs and a pair of fly-outs in what has come to be a typical outing for him. In his 11 starts so far this year, he has an ERA of just 2.67, has struck out three times as many as he has walked and has never surrendered more than the three earned runs he gave the Yankees.
"I thought he threw extremely well today," Matheny said. "Just having a couple of those innings add up on him and seems like the leadoff walks - first, fifth, and obviously at the end of the game we saw, too- they all hurt us. You give a good team extra bases, extra outs, it’s going to come back and bite us."
Notes: The rain delays for Wacha total 4 hours and 52 minutes….In his last two starts, Wacha has allowed less than one runner per inning.