“I realize that I put him in a real tough spot… Just a tough spot for him to be in. Not the spot we wanted him to be in.”
Mike Matheny decided he was using Michael Wacha on Wednesday. That much was clear. He made mention of it before the game, indicating that Wacha was available in a different fashion than in previous games this postseason. With the Cardinals up 3-2, Matheny got Wacha up in the top of the seventh, readying him alongside lefty specialist Randy Choate in case Wainwright needed to come out.
Wainwright finished that inning, and with the one-run lead intact, Matheny followed his usual script and put in Pat Neshek to pitch the eighth. Wacha got up again that inning after Neshek allowed a leadoff homer to Michael Morse, tying the game.
When the bottom of the ninth rolled around, Wacha was ready again. At this point, Matheny had to know it was use him or lose him. Wacha hadn’t pitched since Sept. 26. He hadn’t made a relief appearance all year. He didn’t have his usual stuff in September after missing 2 1/2 months with a shoulder injury, which is why he wasn’t included in the postseason rotation. There was no way Matheny wanted to bypass Wacha now and then risk injuring him by using him in the 12th or 13th inning of a tie game with the rest of his bullpen exhausted. So, Matheny made the call. Four batters later, the Giants were 6-3 winners.
Obviously, it was a bad call. Not a bad call in hindsight… a bad call at the very moment Matheny sent him to the mound. If Matheny thought Wacha was the right person to pitch in a tie game in the bottom of the ninth with elimination one mistake away… well, then there’s no doubt Wacha would have been on the mound at some point in the previous eight postseason games.
It might have worked out anyway. Wacha arrived on the mound with his best velocity of the year. He hit 98 mph on the FS1 gun. But he was rusty. He didn’t have time to find his command or his changeup. He was exactly the guy he should have been having sat for three weeks.
Matheny will survive the Cardinals’ loss. In three years at the helm, he’s guided the team to a 275-211 record, a World Series and a second NLCS. And given that the Cardinals lost their best player, Yadier Molina, in Game 2 of the series against the Giants, there’s a ready excuse for dropping the series, not that any excuse for losing a best-of-seven series should ever be needed. Still, it’ll be a long time before anyone forgets the Wacha move, and a couple of his Game 4 choices weren’t much better. The losses in the last three games of the series went to the last three pitchers on the staff (Randy Choate, Marco Gonzales and now Wacha). His decision to pinch-run Daniel Descalso in the ninth tonight only after Matt Adams got to second base might have cost the team the go-ahead run. It’s not nearly all on Matheny; the Cardinals were outplayed by the Giants. But there wasn’t any bigger mismatch on the diamond than the mismatch that was Matheny versus Bruce Bochy.