Wacha looms as potential party pooper

BOSTON -- Of the St. Louis Cardinals’ two wins thus far in the 2013 World Series, one was decidedly bizarre, unprecedented and even controversial. The other was much easier to define. Craig Breslow and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had one miserable inning for the Boston Red Sox and dynamo Michael Wacha was splendid on the mound for the Cardinals, resulting in a 4-2 victory for St. Louis in Game 2.

If any Boston fans have put the cart before the horse and staked out their viewing spot for a rolling rally, they should be reminded of Wacha’s looming, if young, presence in a must-win Game 6 for the Cardinals on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox need no reminders.

“He’s had the postseason he’s had because he’s an extremely talented guy,” Boston manager John Farrell said Tuesday at Fenway Park. “We know he’s going to come at us. We have some familiarity. Obviously, Game 2 was a set of experiences that we can draw that from. How he responds tomorrow, we fully expect him to be equal to the way he was in Game 2.”

The way Wacha was in Game 2 resulted in six strong innings in which his only mistake was a two-run homer to David Ortiz. Nobody should be ashamed of giving up anything to Ortiz right now, and Wacha has most definitely moved on, expressing confidence far beyond his 22 years when asked about his upcoming do-or-die start.

“Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I try to take advantage of it,” he said in a teleconference with reporters Tuesday afternoon. “So that’s the way I’ve been my whole life, really. So this is another opportunity that I’m going to try to take advantage of and get a win for this ballclub.”

Just as Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester has been thrust into numerous statistical comparisons to heroes of past postseasons (for instance, his 1.98 ERA in 11 postseason starts trails only Babe Ruth and Ernie Shore among Sox starters), Wacha has carved out his own niche among the legends of the fall.

His 1.00 ERA through four playoff outings is the fourth-lowest in a single postseason (minimum four starts) and the best mark since John Smoltz in 1996. Wacha’s scoreless streak of 18 1/3 innings earlier this postseason is the longest such stretch by a rookie, eclipsing a 93-year-old mark.

Ortiz’s opposite-field shot into the Monster seats was the only disruption in the record-setting run and also the lone home run Wacha allowed on a changeup in 2013 after throwing 389 changeups that didn't leave the park. Aside from Ortiz’s homer, the Sox were 0-for-8 with four strikeouts when the righty threw his best pitch.

Not that Wacha observers necessarily need numbers, but statistics such as these only reinforce the fact that no matter how bright the lights get Wednesday night, Boston’s bats are in for a fight.

“It seems like with every situation that everybody tries to build up around him, the better he pitches,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said.

The strategy for the Red Sox will be the same as it has been for the team’s first 177 games this year: Make the opposing pitcher work. The sooner the Sox can chase Wacha and get into the Cardinals' bullpen, the better the chances of a World Series celebration before Halloween. St. Louis' pen looked mighty in Game 2, but since then owns a 4.91 ERA and has allowed five of nine inherited runners to score in three games.

Boston had some success with that approach in Game 2, seeing an average of 4.75 pitches per plate appearance against Wacha. That allowed the Sox to chase Wacha after six frames, his shortest start of his remarkable postseason.

A remarkable postseason that would reach even greater heights if Wacha can push the Cards into Game 7.