Wacha impresses with gem in debut for Cardinals
ST. LOUIS -- The hype and expectation trailed Michael Wacha out of Jupiter, Fla., to Memphis, Tenn., and onward to St. Louis as it often does to a first-round talent.
Few, however, will live up to it as Michael Wacha did on Thursday.
Less than a year removed from closing his collegiate career at Texas A&M University, Wacha debuted in front of 43,916 fans at Busch Stadium, treating the near-sellout crowd to a collective list of firsts as he dominated the Royals. The fact that he didn't get the one he wanted most -- that first win -- was of little fault of his own.
It was the bullpen that wasted away a one-run lead to yank a win away from Wacha. On a night that included a total rain-delay time of five hours, 32 minutes, the Cardinals lost, 4-2, after allowing three ninth-inning runs.
"I thought Michael was terrific," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a shame that it's going to fall on the back page, but he was very good and came in and did exactly what he should do and pitched his game."
After throwing only 73 2/3 innings in the Minors, Wacha's first seven for St. Louis were nearly perfect. He opened his big-league career by retiring the first 13 batters he faced and closed it by setting down seven in a row. In between, two hits led to the Royals' only run off the right-hander.
"That Wacha threw [well] for his debut," said George Brett, who had been named the Royals' interim hitting coach earlier in the day. "No-hitter. I was thinking it, especially with rain in the forecast. He almost got it."
Wacha, the second player from the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft to reach the Majors, made it look as effortless as his final line would suggest. He worked quickly, throwing first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 23 batters he faced. He mixed in his curveball only three times, otherwise relying solely on his changeup and a fastball that ranged from 92-96 mph.
All but five outs were recorded on the infield. Six came via strikeouts, including one of Alex Gordon to begin the night. Wacha did not walk a batter, and he threw 67 of his 93 pitches for strikes. The seven-inning start matched a season high for the 21-year-old, who went that deep in three of his nine Triple-A starts.
"[Catcher] Yadi [Molina] was putting down signs and I wasn't shaking them, for sure," Wacha said. "I was able to keep them off balance with those two pitches. I'll remember it for the rest of my life. It was an unbelievable feeling out there on the mound and it was a lot of fun."
The bullpen implosion and hours-long rain that arrived in the ninth inning made an already unforgettable night even more memorable for Wacha. It also foiled dinner plans.
The nearby Joe Buck's Restaurant had set aside a room for Wacha to meet up with about 50 family members and friends for a post-game dinner after his start. They ended up all going on without him, as Wacha waited out a delay in a game that didn't conclude until 3:14 a.m. CT. It was the latest a game had ever ended at Busch Stadium III.
"They all went and had a good time, they said," noted Wacha. "I'll just wake up tomorrow morning and eat with them in the morning."
When he does, he'll be able to show off the pair of keepsakes he took from his night at Busch Stadium. The ball he used to strike out Gordon, as well as the one he slapped to right field for a second-inning single, were secured for Wacha's growing collection.
Wacha's arrival had been the most anticipated of any of the rookie pitchers to contribute to the Cardinals' 35-18 record so far. He is the seventh rookie to throw for the Cardinals this season and fifth to make his debut in 2013. The group has already amassed 13 wins, falling only three outs shy of No. 14 on Thursday.
Wacha will get his next chance for his first victory in a game against the D-backs on Tuesday. Whether he'll cement a permanent place in this rotation for the rest of the season will depend upon several factors -- including the potential returns of a pair of veteran starters, workload concerns and effectiveness.
Those discussions will come in time. Thursday was simply about giving St. Louis a chance to move past the hype and to see how it compared to the tangible results.
"[It was] definitely just one to remember," Wacha said as he neared the end of his 3:30 a.m. gathering with the media. "I'll never forget this day, that's for sure."