Before tonight, Michael Wacha was simply heralded in St. Louis as a pretty good pitching prospect for the Cardinals. Most people outside St. Louis, including me, had never heard of the 22-year-old right-hander.
After three hours of work, everyone who was watching now knows how good he’s going to be.
For 8 2/3 innings, Wacha no-hit the Washington Nationals, a team who has been playing very well lately, is 12 games over .500, and was eliminated from playoff contention yesterday. He had walked just two, and one Nat had reached on an error. When it came time to get the final out, and make history, Nationals 3B Ryan Zimmerman came to the plate.
Zimmerman hit the first pitch into the ground, and it took a hop straight up and over the mound. Wacha reached his glove as far as he could, missing the ball and almost surely the 27th out by just inches. Wacha even said after the game he thought his glove nicked the ball, although replays appear to show he did not. SS Pete Kozma still had a play on the ball, but it became a slow bouncer once it hit the ground, and by the time he picked it up and threw to 1B Matt Adams, it was too late and bid for history was history.
All this came from a player who just made his major league debut on May 30, and was pitching just his 15th game and 9th start in the big leagues. The near miss improved his record to 4-1 (the Cardinals won 2-0), and he is 3-1 in his starts, although all of his no-decisions have been games the Cardinals lost (they are 3-6 overall in his starts). His ERA before tonight was 3.21, but is now down to 2.78.
I mentioned Wacha’s young age of 22; he was in school at Texas A&M just 16 months ago. He was drafted last year with the 19th overall pick; this was the pick the Cardinals received for the loss of Albert Pujols in free agency (so Wacha will be a trivia answer someday). By the end of the year, he had played in the Cardinals farm system for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals (Rookie), Palm Beach Cardinals (Advanced Class A), and the Springfield Cardinals (AA). He hit those three levels in a total of 11 games. He spent most of this year with the Memphis Redbirds (AAA), where in 15 games he was 5-3 with a 2.65 ERA.
Another baseball game tonight, between the White Sox and Indians, had a thrilling finish, which was made even more meaningful by the fact the Indians are part of the big AL Wild Card race. Cleveland led 3-2 going to the top of the 9th, at home, before closer Chris Perez allowed two solo homers to Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza to give the White Sox a 4-3 lead. In the bottom half, with Michael Brantley on second, 42-year-old Jason Giambi hit a pinch-hit walk-off HR to give the Indians a 5-4 victory. The Braves also won on an Andrelton Simmons RBI single in the 9th that scored Justin Upton and gave the Braves a 3-2 victory over the Brewers. Atlanta retains a half-game lead over St. Louis for the best record in the NL.