Wacha's shutout keeps Boston on a roll

June 7th, 2022

ANAHEIM – At one point, was a great early-season story for the Red Sox.

Now? The veteran righty looks primed to be a story that can extend past the spring and deep into the summer.

Wacha (4-1, 1.99 ERA) had a brilliant performance on Monday night at Angel Stadium, firing the second shutout and complete game of his career, lifting Boston above .500 for the first time since April 19 with a tense, 1-0 victory in the opener of a four-game series.

The Red Sox are the only team in MLB to have three complete games this season. In fact, no other team has more than one.

Wacha made a point of seeking out Nick Pivetta and Nathan Eovaldi -- the authors of Boston’s other CGs this season -- in the victory line.

“I told them going through the high-five line, ‘I was just trying to be like you guys,’” said Wacha.

It was the first 1-0, complete-game shutout for a Boston pitcher since Curt Schilling on June 7, 2007, at Oakland. It was the first shutout for a Sox pitcher since Chris Sale accomplished the feat against the Royals on June 5, 2019.

It isn’t hard to find the moment to highlight from Wacha’s 105-pitch, three-hit gem.

Look no further than the bottom of the sixth. With the dangerous Shohei Ohtani at the plate with two outs, Wacha reached back for the two hardest pitches (96.4 mph, 96.6 mph) he’s thrown all season to strike out the dangerous lefty slugger.

By the way, those two pitches were only strikes because Ohtani swung at them. Perhaps that's the result of the Angels pressing a bit as they're mired in a 12-game losing streak.

“We were pitching around him a little bit, don’t let him beat us in that situation,” said Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez. “You know Wacha has that fastball rising up and was trying to get some swing and miss up in the zone and we got it.”

Ohtani had one more chance at Wacha and that was with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

That time, Ohtani offered at a first-pitch changeup that was slightly out of the zone on the outer half. Ohtani grounded out to second baseman Trevor Story to end a satisfying triumph for the Red Sox, who have won five in a row and 14 of their last 19.

This is a far cry from the Boston squad that was nine games under .500 as recently as May 11.

“We know who we are,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “We have a good baseball team. We’ve just got to keep getting better.”

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Red Sox are 13-5 since Pivetta’s two-hitter against the Astros on May 18. Eovaldi fired the first complete game of his career on May 28.

It is no secret that the current weakness of Boston is the bullpen.

Of late, Cora has made it a point to give his starters a longer leash when it makes sense.

“I know we get criticized sometimes with our pitching program early on in the season, taking care of pitchers and taking them out early,” said Cora. “Like we tell them, the reason we do that is to ... be ready when it really matters.”

Though not given much attention when the Red Sox signed Wacha to a one-year, $7 million contract last Nov. 27, it has paid big dividends already.

For the 30-year-old Wacha is looking more like the young stud he once was in St. Louis rather than the guy who was mediocre from 2019-’21.

“He’s done it before,” said Cora. “Like I always said, he comes from an organization that, they love that stuff. [Adam] Wainwright is still pitching. He learned from them and when he gets the ball, he wants to go as deep as possible. We know that. There’s certain days it’s only six. Tonight it was nine.”

And Wacha loved every minute of going nine for the first time since July 18, 2017, against the Mets.

“Most definitely,” said Wacha. “I mean, you’ve got to have confidence in this game to get it done. I feel like with what my pitches are doing right now and how it’s playing against certain hitters, if we can get early outs and get the strikeout whenever we need it, things like this can happen.”