Drafted in the first round in 2012, 19th overall, Michael Wacha’s 2012 professional debut was carefully orchestrated. The timing and duration of his first partial-season outings, all in relief, allowed him to gain valuable experience in a controlled manner.
Here is how it unfolded.
Though his 2012 Double-A experience was brief, the 22-year-old was invited to big league camp in 2013 and impressed. It did not take long for him to receive “the call”. Wacha made his MLB debut on May 30th, when John Gast suffered a shoulder injury. It was the fastest draft-to-MLB progression for a Cardinal since 1988.
Wacha made several relief appearances and three starts before being returned to Memphis in mid-June. He made room for the return of veteran Jake Westbrook. In Triple-A, Wacha was placed on a modified usage pattern that conserved innings. That would prove crucial for the Cardinals in September and October.
Their paths crossed again in early September as Westbrook was mothballed and Wacha was inserted into the rotation, where he excelled. On the 24th, with the Cardinals still chasing the division title, the rookie threw a no-hitter at the Washington Nationals before an infield hit with two outs in the ninth. (This game will be replayed on FOX Sports Midwest on Christmas Day.)
With a total of just nine MLB starts to his name, Wacha entered the post-season as arguably the club’s second-most dependable starter behind Adam Wainwright. In-season rookie star Shelby Miller was sidelined due to workload concerns and Wacha more than stepped into the void.
Wacha was selected to start the elimination Division Series Game 4 in Pittsburgh and was nothing short of amazing. He almost completely silenced the Pirates’ bats and their hopes of clinching at home with a masterful performance, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning.
As the Cardinals dispatched the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games to take their fourth National League pennant in the last 10 years, Wacha was named Series Most Valuable Player. Outduelling Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw twice, Wacha threw 13 2/3 shutout innings and became the first rookie to record two scoreless starts in a single postseason series in major-league history.
Wacha and the Cardinals took Game 2 of the World Series in Boston. In doing so, he became the first winning pitcher in a World Series game to have been born in the 1990’s. Wacha ran out of magic in the deciding Game 6, however. The post-season run for the rookie ended with a thud. By the time the fourth inning was over, Wacha had been knocked out. The Red Sox held a 6-0 lead on their way to a decisive 6-1 win that ended St. Louis’ season.
Still, it was a phenomenal ride. There seemed no doubt the Cardinals could not have progressed that far without the September and October surge fueled by Wacha’s valuable young right arm.
His rapid success led to a number of other teams’ fans asking why their organizations passed on Wacha, who should be an integral member of St. Louis’ rotation for years to come.