'He was battling': Workmanlike win for Wacha in home opener

News-DemocratApril 7, 2014 

Michael Wacha describes the atmosphere at Busch Stadium on Monday.

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You'd think Michael Wacha would be happy after a win in the home opener.

The fact that he wasn't? It's a measure of the pitcher he is.

"I felt good out there, but the command wasn't where I wanted it to be," Wacha said after pitching the St. Louis Cardinals to a 5-3 win Monday over Cincinnati to open proceedings at Busch Stadium this season. "But I was able to battle out there."

Wacha gave up seven hits and struck out three in six innings, allowing his first run of the season -- horrors! -- as his ERA rose to 0.71 after two starts.

"He was good enough to get the win," catcher Yadier Molina said. "He was battling the whole game. The location wasn't that great, but he kept us in the game and we got the three-run lead in the first. That helped him.

"The experience that he got last year helped him, too. This kid can control himself. There isn't anything that bothers him."

Not even the perils that kept finding Wacha on Monday afternoon, when he allowed the leadoff hitter to reach base in each of the first four innings.

"I felt like I was throwing out of the stretch all game today," he said. "I've got to do a better job of getting that leadoff guy out."

Maybe so, but things turned his way anyway: Wacha simply induced two double-play grounders, and for good measure trapped another runner off third by getting a grounder with the infield drawn in.

All the while, he was only too happy to draw from the energy of the biggest crowd in Busch Stadium III history (47,492).

He likened it to his electric -- (my word, not his) -- outings in the postseason last October, when he was the National League Championship Series MVP.

"This is definitely similar," Wacha said. "Huge crowd out here today, a lot of energy. It's a lot of fun pitching in front of your home crowd, 40,000-plus fans.

"I don't know who wouldn't thrive in these kinds of situations."

Thrive? Maybe. But it's just another day at the office for a 22-year-old kid making his 10th regular-season start in the major leagues.

"Sometimes we forget Michael was pitching in college not too long ago," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But he grew us so fast last year. We had no reservations about him pitching the home opener."

The skipper's confidence didn't waver as Monday's game unfolded, even after all the pomp and circumstance of the region-wide holiday that is Opening Day.

An opener, mind you, that was dogged by rain but not by the attitude of the youngest Cardinals starter.

"Business as usual," Matheny said. "For a young guy, he just comes in here with a very solid approach to the game.

"He prepares well and he competes well, obviously. But distractions don't seem to be something that would faze (him). There are going to be days where he's not going to be as sharp, but I don't think it's going to be because of outside influences."

Nope, not to hear Wacha tell it.

"I just try to approach the game the same -- (with the) same mentality: Go out and attack the hitters and try not to think about what stage you're on -- whether it's opening day, whether it's in the postseason.

"I just try to approach it like any other game."

Joe Ostermeier is chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985. He can be reached at (618) 239-2512 or at jostermeier@bnd.com.

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