warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Wacha Propels Cardinals Past Pirates To Force Game 5

Andrew Tweedy |
October 8, 2013 | 9:30 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates fell to the Cardinals in Game 4. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Andrew McCutchen and the Pirates fell to the Cardinals in Game 4. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Michael Wacha pitched in the biggest game of his young career on Monday. He didn't disappoint, as the St. Louis Cardinals' 22-year-old rookie turned in an incredibly dominant performance by taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning to give the Cardinals a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. The Cardinals evened the series at two games apiece, sending it back to St. Louis for the deciding Game 5.

Wacha's last start came 13 days ago against the Washington Nationals, and he hurled an exceptional game then as well in taking a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to see it slip away after Ryan Zimmerman reached on an infield hit with two outs. The pressure situation from two weeks ago likely helped the rookie stay calm on Monday in Pittsburgh in front of a rowdy Pirates' home crowd.

That near-no-hitter coupled with his impressive 2.78 ERA over the span of 64.2 innings this year inspired Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny to give Wacha the nod in Game 4, rather than starting staff ace Adam Wainwright on short rest after he pitched in Game 1 of the series.

A no-hitter against the Pirates almost seemed like a certainty after Wacha blew a 96 mph fastball right past Marlon Byrd, striking him out on three straight pitches to begin the 8th inning. However, Pedro Alvarez then stepped up to the plate and ended the no-hit bid in style, launching a 421-foot no-doubt home run into right center field to cut the Cardinals lead to 2-1.

SEE MORE: 2013 NLDS Preview: Pirates vs. Cardinals

After Wacha walked the next batter, Russell Martin, Matheny decided the rookie's day was over and inserted another rookie, Carlos Martinez, to pitch to Jose Tabata.  The Pirates proceeded to squander their opportunity when pinch-runner Josh Harrison was gunned down by Yadier Molina while attempting to steal second base. It appeared as though Tabata botched an attempted hit-and-run play, swinging through a fastball with the runner going. With arguably the best defensive catcher in the game in Molina (threw out 43% of base-stealers in 2013) behind the plate for the Cards, there is little room for error on steal attempts, and a poor slide by Harrison resulted in Molina's good throw beating him to the bag.  After Tabata struck out to end the inning, the Pirates had little chance of winning the game.

Although the ninth inning provided a little drama after Cardinals' closer  Trevor Rosenthal (yet another rookie) walked Neil Walker on four pitches with two outs in the ninth to bring up MVP-candidate Andrew McCutchen, the game ended anti-climactically when McCutchen popped out to second base.

Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle's decision to send the runner in the 8th inning wasn't wrong, but it should have happened if the hit-and-run play was indeed on. Giving Harrison a straight steal there would be foolish with the Pirates down by a run late in a playoff game against Molina. However, aggressive base-running can also make the difference in close games. For that reason, putting the runner in motion is only the right call if Hurdle wanted the hit-and-run, because if properly executed, the Bucs would have prevented an inning-ending double play and put a runner in scoring position with a chance to tie the game. However, Tabata swung through the pitch, leaving Harrison out to dry and effectively ending the Pirates' rally.

SEE MORENLDS Recap: Pirates Take Series Lead With Clutch Hitting

Now, the Cardinals have Wainwright on the mound for Game 5 on Wednesday. They now seem to have the advantage thanks to manager Mike Mantheny's decision to rely on youth in Game 4 (Wacha, Martinez, and Rosenthal are all rookies 23-years-old or younger), and get to rely on their veteran ace in the last game of the series.

 Wainwright, backed by his home crowd at Busch Stadium, will be matched up against 22-year-old Pirates starter Gerrit Cole. Cole dominated the Cardinals in Game 2 of the series, so Clint Hurdle opted to start him on short rest instead of veteran A.J. Burnett, who struggled mightily in Game 1.  

With both teams' seasons on the line, expect strong performances from both pitchers on Wednesday for Game 5, when the Pirates battle the Cardinals for a date in the NLCS against the Yasiel Puig and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Reach Staff Writer Andrew Tweedy here. Follow @nyy_baseball



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.