Analysis: Wacha prevails in marquee matchup

BOSTON — Michael Wacha won where and how so many others had failed this postseason.

He outlasted the Boston Red Sox just when baseball's most patient team was sure it had won its nightly battle of attrition, and the St. Louis Cardinals are all even heading home for the next three games of the World Series after Thursday's 4-2 victory

It's where Tampa Bay's David Price and Detroit's Justin Verlander, the American League's past two Cy Young Award winners, had failed. Even when Detroit's Anibal Sanchez held the Red Sox hitless for six innings and beat them, he had to leave because of his pitch count.

It was a marquee matchup on a classic stage — and the 22-year-old kid prevailed.

"This is a big boy place to pitch," said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "But think about all the games he's had to pitch this month."

And it's where Wacha would get to pitch again if this series gets to Game 6.

Wacha already had established his big boy credentials, overpowering the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers this postseason, but this was Fenway Park and the grinding team that prides itself on spitting on your best pitches while chewing you up.

The game was exactly that standoff from the beginning, mano a mano, substance against style — a staredown to dwarf Joe Kelly vs. Scott Van Slyke.

But it took the failure of Boston's other post-season constant — the bullpen — to settle the deal.

Red Sox starter John Lackey finally had a lead when he took the mound in the seventh inning because his teammates finally had broken down Wacha.

But after a one-out walk to David Freese and a single by Jon Jay, Lackey was replaced by Craig Breslow, the left-handed piece of the trio with Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara that had protected just about everything the patient offense had created this month.

But Breslow's contribution this time was a walk, sacrifice fly, single and throwing error to turn a 2-1 lead into the final deficit.

The rapid-fire meltdown wiped out a long evening's work by the Boston batters.

Their mantra is eventually — and that's always the crucial word as far as the Red Sox are concerned — they'll get to whoever you are.

Eventually came in the sixth inning when David Ortiz lofted a 3-2 pitch into the seats above the left field Green Monster to erase a 1-0 deficit, end Wacha's postseason shutout streak that had reached 19 innings and threaten to send the Cardinals home not even certain they'd get to play their three home games.

It was the result — and seemed for a few moments to be the culmination — of a typical autumn night in Boston.

Wacha allowed just one baserunner — a walk — in the first two innings and still was on a 171-pitch pace.

He kept putting zeroes on Fenway Park's Green Monster. Yet, the Red Sox were unrelenting in keeping the pitch pace untenable — or at least at a place where a complete game was out of the question.

Through three scoreless innings — the Red Sox at least had a broken-bat single — the pace was all the way down to 159. It was still 153 through five innings — and the Cardinals finally had staked him to a 1-0 lead.

"He still kept his pace," Mozeliak said. "He probably wishes he could have been more efficient."

That was the focal point of the battle from the beginning.

"They battled me all night," Wacha said. "They weren't swinging down in the zone that I usually get swings at. They made me work, got my pitch count up a lot higher than I wanted it to be."

The point of reckoning came — eventually — in the sixth when the Red Sox pushed Wacha into new territory.

With one out, he walked Dustin Pedroia. It was Wacha's fourth walk of the game, matching his total for three previous postseason starts and matching his major league career high.

Ortiz was next and predictably worked the count to 3-2.

Wacha kept throwing the changeup that had been devastating all night. Four in a row he threw to Ortiz, who said he remembered Wacha had thrown that pitch back-to-back in his previous at-bat. The last one was too high in the strike zone. Where Ortiz put it was too high for anyone to catch.

Was it fatigue? The law of averages?

Either way, it was Wacha's 103rd pitch of the night — in the sixth inning. That's nine short of the career-high 112 he would pass before the inning ended.

That's also when his night ended, but just long enough to become the winning pitcher because of the seventh-inning rally.

Be sure the Red Sox will be back without any change in approach. But now it's increasingly likely Wacha will be, too, unless one team runs the unlikely three-game table in St. Louis beginning Saturday.

It looks like the battle we'd been waiting for has propelled us to the battle we've been hoping for.


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