BOSTON — Michael Wacha had a funny way of preparing for his World Series start that’s supposed to save the season for the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 22-year-old October ace spent Tuesday afternoon on the tarmac at the St. Louis airport when the team plane got grounded by mechanical problems.
No telling when the Cardinals would arrive in Boston, trailing the Red Sox 3-2 going into Game 6 tonight.
“Everyone is just watching movies,” Wacha said from the plane, a couple of hours into the delay. “They’ve got dinner on here for us and stuff. Everyone is just walking around. Nobody is in a bad mood or anything like that. The attitude is pretty good.”
His teammates were probably confident, too, considering what the rookie has done this postseason. He’s 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in four starts, including a win over John Lackey and the Red Sox in Game 2. Lackey will again oppose the tall right-hander.
“I don’t think anything will be much different,” Wacha said. “I just try to approach every game the same. I don’t think it’s going to be too much different. We know the next two games are must-wins. It all starts with me tomorrow night.”
Heady stuff for a guy who was pitching at Texas A&M less than a year and a half ago, a guy who began this season in Triple-A.
Then again, look at what he’s done.
He came within an out of a no-hitter against Washington in his final start of the regular season, only to give up an infield single. With the Cardinals facing a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five division series, he took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning to win at Pittsburgh.
He twice outpitched Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw to win MVP honors in the NL championship series, then beat Boston with his family in the seats at Fenway Park.
Quite a run, by any standards.
“I think it’s been one of those that’s been fun for us to watch,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said from the idle plane. “Taking everything into consideration, how this kid was in school, in college 18 months or so ago, and watch the maturity, and watch the progress, too.”
“Not just Michael, but a group of other young players that have been able to do something very similar. But Michael’s done a nice job. We just want him to really not focus on the big picture of what exactly is going on. What we want him to do is go out, make one pitch at a time. There’s time for summations later.”
Lackey said he could appreciate what Wacha is going through. The Red Sox righty was a rookie with the Angels in 2002 when he started Game 7 of the World Series and beat the San Francisco Giants.
“Probably similar to the way I was feeling. I think I was 23 or whatever that year,” Lackey said. “I don’t know what kind of guy he is. But personally, I was more excited about it than anything else as far as nerves.”
The Red Sox are trying to clinch a World Series title on their own field for the first time since 1918. Anticipation is high in Boston, and prices on the secondary market for even a standing-room ticket were approaching $1,000.
“I imagine it’s going to be crazy, but I’m not going to pay any attention to it,” Wacha said. “I’ll keep going about my business the way I have been in all my starts this year. And not worry about the crowd, and just get locked in with Yadi behind the plate and just make my pitches.”
Star catcher Yadier Molina helped settle down Wacha in Game 2. Wacha matched a season high with four walks, but allowed only three hits in six innings. David Ortiz did the most damage against him, sending a two-run homer over the Green Monster.
The big-hitting Ortiz was ready for a rematch with Wacha, provided the plane problems got resolved.
“I thought I saw them leaving last night. That’s crazy. Everything happens for a reason,” Ortiz said. “Me, normally, when I have a delay on a flight, I don’t get mad. You don’t play around with that stuff. Hopefully they get here safe.”