Game Report: Cardinals 5, Pirates 0
By Rob Rains
The Cardinals have played 2,673 games since Bud Smith no-hit the Padres in San Diego on Sept. 3, 2001. Only twice since then, including Sunday, have they had a pitcher take a no-hitter into the ninth inning.
Both times the pitcher was Michael Wacha.
Wacha did it against Washington on Sept. 24, 2013, losing that no-hit bid on an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth. On Sunday, he came within three outs of history before pinch-hitter Colin Moran led off the ninth with a clean single to right for the Pirates.
The hit came on the 111th and final pitch of the game for Wacha, who left a changeup higher than he wanted on an 0-2 count.
“I got him 0-2 where I wanted him but then I just left the changeup a little elevated,” Wacha said after the Cardinas’ 5-0 victory over the Pirates. “I didn’t get away with that mistake. … It never got out there where I wanted it to go.”
Staked to 4-0 lead eight pitches into the bottom of the first inning on a grand slam from Marcell Ozuna, Wacha retired the first 13 hitters in order before walking Francisco Cervelli on a 3-2 pitch with one out in the fifth. He also walked Gregory Polanco two batters later, also on a 3-2 pitch, before retiring the next nine hitters.
That got him to the ninth inning, with 107 pitches, and even given Wacha’s injury history, manager Mike Matheny said there was never a doubt about sending Wacha back out to try to finish the game and the no-hitter.
“He smelled it,” Matheny said. “He had it in his sights. It was a special day … It was a clinic on how to pitch. I think I was more nervous about it than he was, but I wanted to see it happen. It was just amazing.
“We had a max number. There is no easy answer except to understand he does have an extra day (before his next start) because of the off-day tomorrow and that’s helpful. You realize it could be a once in a lifetime thing for a young player. Trying to do the right thing for him, that’s it.”
Said Wacha, “There’s just a little slight disappointment. Obviously I wanted the no-hitter. Looking back I take accountability with that pitch It just wasn’t where I wanted it to be.With no-hitters I feel like there’s a lot of luck involved. … They were just hitting it to the guys today and I got some punch outs, got some weak contact and guys were making plays.”
In their storied history, the Cardinals have thrown only three no-hitters at home – by Jesse Haines in 1924 and two by Bob Forsch, in 1978 and 1983.
“I’ve flirted with it a couple times,” said Wacha, adding that he had never thrown a no-hitter either in high school or college. “There’s a lot that goes into no-hitters. You see a bloop shot that gets through, there it goes.
“You keep putting yourself in those situations, maybe.”
Francisco Pena came within three outs of catching a no-hitter too, something his dad, Tony, never did. Neither did Matheny. Neither has Yadier Molina.
“I’m kind of mad right now,” Pena said. “It was a special moment to be so close. Wacha had a great game.”
Great, just not quite historic.
Here is how the game broke down:
At the plate: The Cardinals loaded the bases in the first inning on a walk, an error and a single before Ozuna hit the first pitch for his fourth career grand slam. It was the first grand slam in the first inning by the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter since Albert Pujols did it on Aug. 10, 2002 … The Cardinals had only two more hits before Jose Martinez doubled with one out in the eighth and scored on a two-out single by Yairo Munoz.
On the mound: It was only the sixth time in Wacha’s 124 career starts that he threw 110 or more pitches in a game. He threw 74 for strikes and finished with eight strikeouts. Moran’s hit was only the fourth ball hit into the outfield by the Pirates. Wacha raised his record to 7-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.41. He has not allowed more than two runs in each of his last nine starts … Jordan Hicks relieved following Moran’s hit and got the last three outs , striking out two.
Key stat: Wacha is one of only four pitchers in the major leagues to have multiple no-hit bids of eight-plus innings in the last five seasons. The others to do it are Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta, all of whom have pitched at least one no-hitter.
Worth noting: Ozuna became the sixth cleanup hitter in Cardinals history to hit a grand slam in the first inning. The others to do it before Pujols were Todd Zeile in 1983, Ken Boyer in 1961 and 1953, Joe Medwick in 1937, Jim Bottomley in 1923 and Rogers Hornsby in 1919 … Munoz was caught stealing in the sixth inning, leaving the Cardinals with 26 stolen bases and 18 runners caught stealing this season … The amateur draft begins on Monday night with the Cardinals having three day-one selections, the 19th, 43rd and 75th overall picks.
Looking ahead: The Cardinals expect to have Carlos Martinez pitching and Molina catching in Tuesday night’s game against the Marlins at Busch Stadium following Monday’s day off. The next three series for the Cardinals will be against the team currently in last place in the National League’s three divisions; the Marlins, Reds and Padres.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains