Michael Wacha finally had a rookie setback, and what a setback it was.
The hard-throwing 22-year-old who burst on the postseason scene with the poise of a veteran failed on baseball’s biggest stage.
”It’s an elimination game,” Wacha said. ”It doesn’t matter how hard you’re throwing if you can’t locate and I wasn’t able to do that.”
The St. Louis Cardinals starter allowed six runs in 3-2/3 innings Wednesday night and the Boston Red Sox went on to a 6-1 win in Game 6 for their third World Series title in 10 years.
Wacha looked nothing like the right-hander who shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates once in the National League Division Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers twice in the championship series where he was the MVP, and the Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series.
When he needed to save the season of the team that tied the Red Sox for most regular-season wins with 97, he couldn’t.
So his debut year that began in the minors ended in failure on the Fenway Park mound. It will take a while for him to focus on his successes.
”It’s a little too soon to reflect on it,” Wacha said, his arms in his back pockets and his headed shaking from side to side. ”It’s hard right now. It’s not a good feeling. Maybe in a week or so I’ll be able to look back. Getting to the World Series is a tremendous accomplishment for this club, but it still hurts.”
The loss ended a trip to Boston that started poorly.
The Cardinals’ flight from St. Louis on Tuesday took off about 9:10 p.m., roughly six hours late, and arrived shortly after 11 p.m.
”Nobody is in a bad mood or anything like that,” Wacha said in a conference call from the plane, a few hours into the delay. ”The attitude is pretty good.”
Then the plane landed and he felt fine.
”I had an extra day’s rest,” he said. ”Arm felt great. Body felt great. I just didn’t make pitches.”
The six runs Wacha allowed were twice as many as he gave up in his other four postseason games combined. The five hits he allowed were nearly half the 11 he gave up in his other 23 postseason innings.
”You got a kid that’s been out there and so impressive,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. ”The game is going to catch up with everybody.”
And like St. Louis’ other starting pitchers, he got little support.
The Cardinals led the NL with 4.8 runs per game but scored only 14 runs in the World Series, an average of 2.3. In the six games against Boston, they batted .167 with runners in scoring position after setting a franchise record of .330 during the regular season.
They didn’t score for Wacha on Wednesday.
”He’s trying,” said right fielder Carlos Beltran, who reached the World Series for the first time in his 16-year career. ”He did so good for us and the reason why we’re here is because of him.
”He wanted to go out there and give us a chance to win, but, at the same time, we could have picked him up offensively and go out there and score runs for him and we didn’t do that.”
David Freese was one of the most glaring failures in the Cardinals lineup. The 2011 World Series MVP went 3 for 19 with seven strikeouts and no runs batted in.
”It’s tough not coming through and not putting runs on the board,” Freese said, ”especially with Wacha on the mound and trying to get to Game 7.”
Wacha started out well Wednesday.
In the first inning, he struck out Jacoby Ellsbury, got Dustin Pedroia on a grounder to second and walked David Ortiz, not a bad idea considering Ortiz entered the game batting .733 in the Series. Then he fanned Mike Napoli.
He started the second by allowing a single to Jonny Gomes and a walk to Shane Victorino. But Xander Bogaerts and Stephen Drew fouled out and David Ross struck out.
Wacha was in a similar jam in the third with runners at first and second and two outs. But he hit Gomes with a pitch to load the bases, the first time Wacha had done that in his pro career. Then Victorino, who had been hitless in 10 at-bats in the series, cleared the bases with a double off the Green Monster.
Victorino pounded his chest three times and yelled as he took third on the throw to the plate.
”It was a mistake,” Wacha said, ”fastball right down the middle.”
He could only watch after the first postseason hit against him with runners in scoring position.
Then he ended the inning by fanning Bogaerts.
His next pitch, though, was a bad one. Stephen Drew, just 1 for 16 in the Series, hit it into the Red Sox bullpen in right field for a homer. Wacha was replaced with two outs and runners at first and third, and reliever Lance Lynn allowed two RBI singles.
Wacha had been 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in his other four postseason starts, outstanding for someone who was pitching at Texas A&M last year. He didn’t make his major league debut until May 30 when he allowed one run in seven innings against the Kansas City Royals.
On Oct. 30, it all ended.
”I didn’t want to win it for myself. I wanted to win it for these guys in the clubhouse who have been working all year,” Wacha said. ”I just let the team down. It’s not a very good feeling, that’s for sure.”