I’ve said before that I think Mike Matheny is one of the luckiest managers out there. Oftentimes a move is made and it either does or should backfire, only to see the players bail him out with a great defensive play or a batter coming through in an unlikely scenario. While there is some credit to be given by going with hunches, these are less hunches than outdated theories on baseball, such as his penchant for bunting, for example. Sometimes he just gets lucky.
Starting Michael Wacha in Game 4 was not one of those times.
There were a lot of strong variables in favor of Wacha going. Shelby Miller had struggled in Pittsburgh this season. The Pirates weren’t necessarily a good changeup hitting team and Wacha had a solid one. While of course there were questions before Wacha took the mound, there wasn’t anyone (or, let’s say very few because you can always find someone on the internet that goes against the flow) that thought Matheny was out of his mind for doing this.
It didn’t take long for Matheny to be justified, anyway. Wacha came out and completely dominated Pittsburgh, ignoring the crowd and any pressure to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Think about that. The guy that last spring was finishing up his college career has gone, in his last two professional starts that include his first playoff outing, a total of 16 innings and allowed just two hits. If there was any reason to wonder why Wacha had flown up the organizational ladder, I think those have been put to rest. And then some.
Of course, the Cardinals can’t exactly make this easy. I pointed out in the last post that, given their history against him, the Redbirds should be able to get to Charlie Morton. What I apparently didn’t write as I review the post but had meant to was that we knew that Morton could turn in a good game because he’d done it before to the Cards. Not to the extent he did yesterday, though. When the only offense was Matt Holliday‘s two-run homer (take that, MH Isn’t Clutch club), you know you are going to have to rely on your pitching. Thankfully St. Louis can do that without too many qualms.
Part of the problem is that Matt Carpenter has picked the wrong time to go into a slump. He sparks this offense and when he’s not getting on base or coming through in a big spots, it hurts. His strikeout with two on and two out in the fifth could have loomed very large had Holliday not homered in the next frame.
As I’m listening to the eighth inning last night coming back from a client (thank goodness for being able to stream it via MLB At Bat!), I’m thinking, “Just get past Pedro Alvarez and Russell Martin and we’re good.” Of course, it’d be those Cardinal killers that ended Wacha’s day, with a long home run by Alvarez (his third of the series–if he’s not on bumped Bud Norris from the top of the list of Cardinal nemesis–nemesi? nemesises?–he should have) and then a questionable walk by Russell Martin. John Rooney was pretty sure Martin had struck out, but instead he trotted to first and Wacha trotted to the bench.
Now, at the outset of this post, I said that Matheny could get lucky, could get bailed out by his players. While the decision to start Wacha wasn’t one of those, the decision to bring in Carlos Martinez instead of Trevor Rosenthal just might have been. I know Martinez has amazing stuff and I’m excited to see him in next year’s rotation, but he’s not been quite as consistent out of the pen, at least not in the shutdown fashion that I’d like to see. Being that the game was seemingly on the line right there, using Rosenthal might have been the better option.
So what happens? Yadier Molina shows why he is MVP in more than just hitting by throwing out a pinch-running Josh Harrison and Martinez drops down a full-count curveball to Jose Tabata to end the inning. I don’t know what Matheny does to live this charmed life, but I hope he never stops.
Rosenthal did come in and still made it interesting in the ninth, walking Neil Walker with two out to face Andrew McCutchen. I think interesting is the wrong word. I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe for a good five minutes, which is probably not what you want to see out of a guy driving on the interstate. Thankfully, McCutchen was swinging on 3-0 and popped it up, sending both teams back to St. Louis for a deciding Game 5.
Best take your heart medication and have your doctor on standby, because we know what Game 5s have been worth in the past. In 2011, we saw possibly the best pitched playoff game (though you have to say this one was really close) as Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay matched zeros. In 2012, it was the late, last-gasp rally by the Cards that sent them into the LCS. This team knows how to win in these situations. Whether they’ll do it or not still remains to be seen.
By the way, do the complements come higher than Carpenter saying Wacha reminds him of himself? That’s the gold standard when it comes to Cardinal pitchers. As Bernie Miklasz says, with Wainwright’s look and Carpenter’s competitiveness (though I don’t think we should discount Waino’s got a lot of that as well), Wacha is almost like a hybrid of the two, which is awesome if you are a Cardinal fan. Perhaps not as much if you follow the rest of the National League.
Game 5 is, courtesy of the Dodgers finishing off the Braves last night, the first night game these two will have in this series. If I’m the Cardinals, I know it’s not Saturday but I’m busting out those alternate jerseys to let Waino think that it is. As great as he always is and as awesome as he’s been at home, when those new outfits are on, he’s almost unhittable.
Unfortunately, I’ve run out of time this morning, so we’ll talk about Wainwright and Gerrit Cole tomorrow. How’s that for a teaser?