2012 NLCS collapse won't be weighing on Wacha's mind
ST. LOUIS -- Nobody knows how much the Cardinals will be thinking about their collapse in last year's NL Championship Series on Friday night. For the 17 returning players who watched their season sink in San Francisco, the memory of being outscored 20-1 and blowing a 3-1 series lead must be difficult to erase.
But you can be certain at least one Cardinal will not be weighed down by the past. A rather important one, at that.
Michael Wacha wasn't there and says he doesn't remember if he even watched the games. He still was settling into his offseason just weeks after helping the Springfield Cardinals win the Texas League championship.
"I have no idea where I was," Wacha said Wednesday after the Dodgers' 6-4 victory that sent the NLCS back to Busch Stadium.
The way Wacha has been pitching, the Dodgers wouldn't mind if he got lost on his way to Busch for his Game 6 start. The tall Texan has won both of his postseason starts, beating the Pirates 2-1 in Game 4 of the NLDS and then the Dodgers 1-0 in Game 2 of the NLCS while allowing just six hits and striking out 17 in 14 innings.
That's considerably more than should be expected from a 22-year-old who had made only nine big league starts before October. But on and off the mound, Wacha has shown he is not your typical rookie.
At 6 feet 7, his over-the-top delivery creates a downward plane that hitters don't often encounter. What he delivers doesn't make their job any easier either. Wacha's fastball is consistently timed around 95 mph, and his changeup is considered one of the best in the Cardinals' organization.
The difference between Wacha's stuff in the past two months compared with his short call-up in the first half has been the consistency of his curveball. After making three starts when he was promoted in May, the Cardinals sent him back to Memphis to improve his curve and to bank innings for this time of year. His work with Triple-A pitching coach Bryan Eversgerd has paid off.
"He had shown a good curve before, but when he came back he was much more consistent with it," Cardinals farm director John Vuch said.
Just as impressive as Wacha's pitching has been his presence. He carries himself like he's been in the majors far longer than two-plus months. Teammate Chris Carpenter calls him "overly mature" for his age. Watch him being interviewed and you can see why.
After coming within one out of a no-hitter in his final regular-season start, he was asked when he realized he hadn't given up a hit. "First inning," he said, like why wouldn't he know when he gives up a hit.
And of course he heard a stadium full of Pirates fans chanting, "Wacha! Wacha!" He just didn't let the noise bother him. "I kind of like it," he said. "It gives me adrenaline. I use it in my favor."
The Dodgers reached two base runners in an inning only once against Wacha last Saturday, but they believe they will be better prepared this time.
"He's got great stuff, great changeup, great fastball," Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez said. "But now that we've faced him and have an idea how he's going to attack us, we can make our adjustments and feel more confident seeing him a second time."
As reporters crowded around his locker at Dodger Stadium while the Cardinals readied for their trip home, Wacha answered questions just the way manager Mike Matheny would have wanted.
"We know going into this series they're a powerful team," Wacha responded when asked if there is concern that the Dodger bats have awakened following their four-homer Game 5 performance, "You can't make mistakes with them. We've been pretty good with them this series. We'll just have to get back to what was working before."
When asked if it was unreal to see himself in this situation considering where he was in May, he said, "Not really. If you have doubts in your mind that you're not going to be a good pitcher in the postseason, you're not going to do any good out there."
Wacha may be a rookie, but he isn't letting the importance of the start get to him. "Just try to approach it like last time. Keep attacking the zone. My job is to go out there and try to win a ballgame. That's the plan going into it."
Doesn't sound like he has last year on his mind.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.