(Reuters) - Rookie pitcher Michael Wacha rose to the occasion with another gem for the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 on Monday to force a decisive fifth game in their National League Division Series.
Wacha, who came within one out of hurling a no-hitter in the regular season finale against the Washington Nationals, did not allow a hit to the Pirates until the eighth inning of a tension-packed pitchers’ duel at PNC Park.
“I did a lot of gushing about him before and everyone sees why. I don’t think you could put a kid in a tougher spot,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said about putting the 22-year-old into an elimination game for the top-seeded Cardinals.
“He’s just got a knack for getting up there, very businesslike, and getting the job done.”
The Pirates had only one hit in the game, while the Cardinals managed just three hits off Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton and three relievers but one of them was a two-run homer by Matt Holliday in the sixth.
The only hit Wacha yielded was a home run to slugging third baseman Pedro Alvarez that cut the lead to 2-1 with one out in the bottom of the eighth. After a walk to Russell Martin, Carlos Martinez came on in relief to end the inning.
Rookie closer Trevor Rosenthal entered to pitch the ninth and issued a two-out walk to Neil Walker before retiring Andrew McCutchen on a pop out to second to close out the victory.
Wacha struck out nine and walked two batters in a sensational Major League Baseball postseason debut.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was thoroughly impressed by Wacha, who routinely hit 97 mph with his fastball to set up the rest of his nasty arsenal.
”The whole package,“ Hurdle said in admiration. ”Fastball, velocity obviously there.
“The change-up is a very, very good pitch for him. The curve ball he sprinkled in as well. The command, the location, the sharpness, all of it was there.”
Wacha retired the first 15 batters he faced before losing the perfect game bid with a lead-off walk to Russell Martin in the sixth.
The home run pitch in the eighth to Alvarez, who tied for the National League lead in home runs, came on a 3-1 pitch.
Including the near no-no against Washington, Wacha has issued just two hits to the last 54 batters he has faced.
“I was just trying to attack them,” said Wacha, who credited the direction he received from standout catcher Yadier Molina. “Trying to stay locked in with Yadi, and it worked out pretty well.”
Wacha said that he drew on his previous outing in Monday’s do-or-die game for the Cardinals.
“It helped a ton, just the confidence coming from that game and I was able to go back and watch the film. I was able to get the positives from that game.”
Game Five will be played in St. Louis on Wednesday with the Cardinals starting their 19-game winner Adam Wainwright, winner of the opening game of the series, against rookie Gerrit Cole, who registered the win in Game Two.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue