Wacha mixes it up, dominates again

Working on the outer half was key for Michael Wacha.

St. Louis Cardinals starter Michael Wacha came through with his second straight near no-hitter, and his winning effort helped the Cardinals force a Game 5 in their Division Series matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Elias Sports Bureau noted that Wacha finished with the longest no-hit bid by a rookie in postseason history, his 7 1/3 innings besting the previous mark of 5 1/3 by Jeff Tesreau of the 1912 New York Giants against the Boston Red Sox.

Elias also shared that Wacha is the first pitcher to throw at least seven no-hit innings in consecutive starts since Dave Stieb of the 1988 Toronto Blue Jays and that Wacha joined Mike Mussina (1997 Baltimore Orioles) as the only pitchers to allow one hit in a start of seven innings or longer with his team facing postseason elimination.

As Close As It Gets
2013 NLDS

What else was noteworthy about Wacha’s gem?

He’s one of five pitchers to throw at least seven innings, allowing one hit or fewer while striking out nine or more in a postseason game.

The other four are Mussina (1997 against the Cleveland Indians), Orlando Hernandez (1999 Yankees against the Atlanta Braves), Roger Clemens (2000 New York Yankees against the Seattle Mariners) and Homer Bailey (2012 Cincinnati Reds against the San Francisco Giants).

He’s the eighth pitcher to go at least seven innings, allowing one hit or fewer in his postseason debut. He’s the fourth in the last 15 seasons, the first since Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 NLDS.

He joined Woody Williams (2004 NLCS against the Astros) as the only Cardinals pitchers to allow one hit in a postseason start of seven innings or more.

The Cardinals would need this sort of effort, as they mustered only three hits. The four combined hits tied a postseason record for fewest in a game, matching the mark previously set by the Cardinals and Houston Astros in 2004. Williams started the game, one that the Astros (who had three of the four hits) ended up winning on a Jeff Kent walk-off homer.

How Wacha won

Wacha finished with nine strikeouts and two walks both in this start and the last one of the regular season, in which he took a no-hit bid to two outs in the ninth inning.

Michael Wacha
Last 2 Starts

In each of those starts, he threw his fastball the same amount (68 percent of the time). But he differed in how he used his secondary options.

In his near no-no against the Nationals, he threw 32 changeups and only three curveballs. In Monday’s start, he threw 17 changeups and a career-high 14 curveballs.

Wacha got 15 swings-and-misses in Game 4, five more than he got against the Nationals.

The other big difference is in where Wacha got his outs. The heat map atop this story shows the pitch locations against the Pirates.

Of the 22 batters Wacha retired, 18 of them made outs on pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outer half of the plate.

In the start against the Nationals, he retired 25 hitters (including a double play), with 15 of those at-bats ending on a pitch on the inner half or off the inside corner.

Fun facts about Game 5

The Cardinals have won four of five winner-take-all games since the start of the 2011 season, the lone loss coming in Game 7 of the 2012 NLCS against the Giants.

Their 14 wins in postseason winner-take-all games are the most all-time (two more than the Yankees). The Pirates and Red Sox rank tied for third with six.