Cards’ Michael Wacha justifies the hype in major league debut

ST. LOUIS — Before a monsoon descended on Busch Stadium, before boos descended over a struggling Cardinals reliever, a kid everyone had been waiting on won.

Well, OK. Michael Wacha didn’t officially win. There will be no “W” alongside his name in the box score that accompanies the strange game that started Thursday evening before ending in a 4-2 Royals win early Friday morning.

“What happened?” asked a child below the Busch Stadium press box who had fallen asleep during Wacha’s dominance and awakened after Mitchell Boggs blew his third save this year.

What happened was Jeff Francoeur smashed a two-run homer 400-plus feet to left field to turn the 2-1 lead Wacha left with into a 2-2 tie. That led to a walk, a pitching change, a hit batter and an error. Eric Hosmer doubled off Victor Marte to make it hurt, moving the Royals’ lead to 4-2.

Then the second rain came, one that fell as hard and fast as the spirits of Cardinal fans who watched Wacha’s nearly flawless debut spoil when it was no longer in his hands.

This rain was worse than the rain that pushed the game’s 7:15 p.m. start back to 8:15. This rain left standing pools on the warning track and made rows of stadium seats look like canals. For 4 hours and 32 minutes, the teams waited. They reconvened at 3:04 a.m. Friday, taking just 10 minutes to finish.

What happened?

This game got wacky, then wet, then went way, way too long.

“It was kind of a bizarre night,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said when it was finally over.

But on the subject of Wacha, the most important thing is this: The 21-year-old right-hander who is the latest and supposed-to-be greatest arm in this season’s parade of rookie Cardinals pitchers backed up the confidence that oozed out of him during his first public appearance as a major league starter on Wednesday.

“Here to stay,” Wacha had said then, when asked if this was a short trip or permanent promotion.

And what about the buzz, the fever that’s only grown as the first selection in the Cardinals’ 2012 draft (19th overall) burned through the minors (4-0 with a 1.71 ERA) on his way to St. Louis?

“I just try not to pay too much attention to it,” Wacha said. “I have my own expectations. I just try to go out there and pitch the way I know how.”

His first pitch Thursday was a strike, and that was the first of many more good things. He retired 13 Royals in a row, striking out more in that stretch (four) than the number of balls that left the infield (two). He went on to last seven innings. In that time, he surrendered two hits and one earned run while walking none and striking out six.

“Michael was terrific,” Matheny said. “It’s a shame he’s kind of going to fall on the back page. But he was very good. He came in and did exactly what he should do, and pitched his game.”

Some context: The Royals haven’t hit the ball very well lately, so maybe those numbers are a little misleading.

Some more context: Only three other pitchers since 1916 (Johnny Cueto, Jimmy Jones and Wayne Simpson) have had a debut as good as Wacha’s.

A conclusion: Before his first game took a strange, soggy turn, Wacha justified the hype.

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