It wasn’t until after his Game 6 start in the National League Division Series that Cardinals rookie flame thrower Michael Wacha realized he was the flavor of the month — literally.
He went to grab a bite to eat a few days after going seven scoreless innings to help push the Cardinals into the World Series, looked at the menu, and found out his name was an actual item on it.
“I had a milkshake named after me, and that was pretty weird,” he said.
The name wouldn’t necessarily win any originality contests.
“The milkshake name was “Wacha, Wacha,” the pitcher said. “Never heard that one before.”
But the combination of vanilla, chocolate chips, and Cracker Jack (“a little baseball flair,” he said) got Wacha’s seal of approval.
“I had to try that out,” Wacha said. “It was pretty good. [The restaurant] was in St. Louis. I don’t even know what it was called.”
As much as it seems like the 22-year-old has become a sensation in a blink, Wacha is trying to maintain as much normalcy as possible as he prepares for his World Series Game 2 start Thursday night at Fenway Park.
After winning Game 4 of the NLDS against Pittsburgh to keep the Cardinals alive, then Games 2 and 6 of the NLCS, he acknowledged the obvious when he said this would be the biggest start of his career.
“This World Series start will definitely be the No. 1, the highest, biggest, most important game that I’ve ever pitched in,” Wacha said. “Just really looking forward to it. I’ll try to approach it just like any other start. But just real excited about it.”
If there was a sign of how much of a blur it's been for Wacha, just a year ago he was at Texas A&M pitching against Holy Cross.
But Cardinals manager Mike Matheny worked with the front office to be as patient as possible during Wacha’s warp-speed progression from the minors to key postseason starter.
“I think everybody is surprised when a young player doesn’t go the typical route,” Matheny said. “What we first noticed was in spring training, the stuff was pretty obvious. The makeup, it kind of takes some time to watch. And when you put him in situations with the other players, and just see how they respond, he went about it perfectly.’’
The magnitude of the moment, Wacha said, won’t affect him.
“I want the ball in big situations,” he said. “There’s none bigger than the World Series. And so I’m excited about getting it and I think every guy on our team wants the ball in these kind of situations. And we have so many competitors on our team, it’s just been fun to watch and I look forward to the Series.”
In his first action since September, Allen Craig went 1 for 4 with a single in the fourth inning and said even though he let some good pitches get by him, he felt good overall.
“I thought I saw the ball pretty well today,” Craig said. “I definitely missed some pitches to hit. [Jon] Lester pitched really tough today. He did a good job not leaving too many balls over the plate. Obviously, he’s tough.
He had a pair of six-pitch battles with Lester. In the first one, he managed to shoot one of Lester’s cutters through the left side of the infield.
In the second one, he got caught staring at the same pitch for strike three
“I felt pretty good,” Craig said. “I felt maybe I missed a few pitches that I fouled off, but who’s to say I wouldn’t have missed those pitches two-and-a-half months ago. I felt good in the box and saw the ball decent. So just build from that.”
Matheny used five relievers to finish out the final three innings, looking to get his young arms in the bullpen acclimated to the World Series environment.
It was only two months ago that 21-year-old Carlos Martinez was in TripleA Memphis, blowing his 98-mile-per-hour fastball by the New Orleans Zephyrs.
He faced four batters in the eighth inning.
Matheny split the seventh inning three ways, using veteran lefty Randy Choate to get Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out, giving his 25-year-old righty Seth Maness a crack at Shane Victorino (lined out) and Dustin Pedroia (reached on an error), and throwing his 23-year-old lefty Kevin Siegrist at David Ortiz and Mike Napoli.
Siegrest gave up a two-run blast to Ortiz.
“I think it’s important for them to be out there,” Matheny said. “It’s been a long wait, too; we’ve had quite a few days off, too. It was good to get them out to feel a World Series mound and feel the energy. So next time we get them out there, it’s hopefully in a different situation and they’ll feel a little more comfortable.”
After giving Shane Robinson his first start of the postseason in Game 6 of the NLCS, Matheny decided to stick with the 28-year-old center fielder in Game 1 of the World Series.
“We’ve never doubted what Shane can do defensively,” Matheny said. “And we know that tough lefthanders you’re going to be scratching and clawing for runs.
“So we try to take every chance we can offensively when we can. And Shane did a great job, and has deserved another opportunity. Whether that’s a straight platoon or not, I don’t know. We’ll see day to day as opportunities present themselves.”
Robinson made just 30 starts in the regular season and hit just .250 in his 99 games overall.