Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he thought about pitching his star Adam Wainwright on short rest Monday for Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Pirates but decided against it because he had plenty of faith in rookie starter Michael Wacha.
As it turned out, that faith wasn't misguided as Wacha came through in a big way in the biggest game of the season for the Cardinals. He pitched them to a 2-1 win to tie the series and send it back to St. Louis for the deciding Game 5.
Wacha, who made his first career postseason start, was unflappable, and he also was exactly what was needed for a team that faced elimination after two consecutive losses.
How good was he?
In 71/3 innings, he gave up only one hit -- a homer by Pedro Alvarez -- one run, struck out nine and walked only two before handing the ball to the bullpen to get the final four outs of the game.
He became only the second pitcher in postseason history -- the other was Mike Mussina -- to pitch at least seven innings and give up only one hit in a game in which his team faced elimination, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Matheny said in terms of clutch performances, Wacha's has to rank right up there with some of the best he has seen.
"We did a lot of gushing about him before we even got him out there today and I think everybody sees why," Matheny said. "I don't know if you can put a kid in a tougher spot. ...
"This place was loud. The kid stayed the course, he trusted himself. It was impressive to watch how he executed today."
Wacha made nine starts in the regular season and was 4-1 with a 2.78 ERA. But it was his most recent start, Sept. 24 against Washington, that likely earned him a spot in the postseason rotation: He took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Ryan Zimmerman broke it with an infield single with two outs.
That means in his past two starts, Wacha has given up a total of two hits and one earned run in 16 innings.
Wacha, a fresh-faced 22-year-old a year removed from playing college baseball at Texas A&M, didn't let the PNC Park crowd and their chants of "Wa-cha, Wa-cha" rattle him.
He said he really didn't get intimidated by the crowd.
"It was a little bit of anxiety before the game, just sitting around, waiting for the game to start," Wacha said. "But once I was out there, once I threw the first pitch, all the nerves kind of went away. I tried to stay locked in with [catcher Yadier Molina] there.
"I just tried to use that. I kind of like it. It kind of gives me adrenaline. I kind of use it in my favor," he said of the crowd chanting his name. "I just try to stay locked in and it worked out pretty well."
Pirates outfielder Marlon Byrd said Wacha has impressed him since spring training and said Wacha is the next Adam Wainwright.
And it just so happens that Wainwright will now get the ball for Game 5 Wednesday. Wacha believes that gives the Cardinals an edge because the team seems to play well when he's on the mound.
"[Byrd] saying [I'm] following Wainright's footsteps, that's unbelievable," Wacha said. "That's one of the guys I look up to on the team and try to pattern my game after, the way he attacks the zone, the way he finishes guys, and it is real fun to watch him play as well.
"You saw what he did in Game 1. He's just a great pitcher and he is mentally tough as well."
Paul Zeise: email@example.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published October 7, 2013 9:30 PM