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MLB.com Columnist

Mike Bauman

Cards quite comfortable in must-win situations

Cards quite comfortable in must-win situations

Cards quite comfortable in must-win situations

BOSTON -- So the St. Louis Cardinals have their backs against the wall? Big deal.

The Cardinals have had their backs against the wall so often that this has become an accustomed posture for them.

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Of course, their situation looks grim. They're down, 3-2, in the 2013 World Series, they're on the road for as long as this thing lasts, and they're playing the best team the American League has to offer. And that doesn't even get into David Ortiz hitting .733.

But in the backs-against-the-wall category, the Cards have been there, overcome that.

Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, down to their last strike twice. One of the most memorable games in the history of the Fall Classic. The Cardinals created these moments, won that World Series.

Game 5 of a National League Division Series in 2012. The Cards, on the road, are down six runs after three innings to the Washington Nationals, the NL's best team in the regular season. They are still down two runs going into the ninth. They win anyway.

Game 4 of the NLDS in 2013. The Cardinals are once again on the brink of elimination, on the road against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's the biggest game of the season and they are starting a mere rookie. But wait. The rookie is Michael Wacha. OK, that's different. Wacha goes 7 1/3 innings before he gives up a hit. St. Louis comes back to win another postseason series, taking Game 5 back at home.

Who is pitching Wednesday night (6:30 p.m. CT air time, 7:07 p.m. first pitch on FOX) at Fenway Park for the Cards? To paraphrase Fozzie Bear, "Wacha, Wacha, Wacha." This is the best news Redbirds fans could have.

In this postseason, Wacha has a 4-0 record with a 1.00 ERA in four starts. Opponents are hitting .127 against him. Every time this fellow takes the mound, it's a return to the dead-ball era for the other guys. How badly are the Cardinals supposed to feel with this postseason's best starter pitching for them?

Tough task to tackle
Only two teams since 1968 have rallied from a 3-2 World Series deficit by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road
Year After Game 5 Game 6 Game 7
1979 Orioles 3, Pirates 2 Pit, 4, Bal. 0 Pit. 4, Bal. 1
1968 Cardinals 3, Tigers 2 Det. 13, Stl. 1 Det. 4, Stl. 1

The Cardinals and Red Sox split the first two games of this Series at Fenway, with the Cards winning Game 2 behind Wacha.

"We have great confidence in our team no matter where we're playing," Adam Wainwright said. "Whether we've won a game there or not, we know we can go in there and win some games. This will be legendary. We go into Boston and win two games. But it starts with Game 6.

"I think we have just the team to go in there and win two tough games. We've got to win Game 6 first, it starts with that. We have a pitcher in Michael Wacha who we have great confidence in. He's pitched great before, and we don't expect any less of him going back there."

John Lackey, Boston's Game 6 starter, has restored his career this season. He can be a tough enough customer. But nobody else on the planet is pitching the way Wacha is.

Wacha is just 22 years old, but he is apparently one of those true competitors who gets more enjoyment as the stakes get higher. And they don't get much higher than this.

Remarkable rookie
Michael Wacha's past five starts, including his regular-season finale against the Nationals
Date Opp. Game W L IP H ER BB K
9/24 Was.   1 0 8 2/3 1 0 2 9
10/7 @ Pit. NLDS 4 1 0 7 1/3 1 1 2 9
10/12 L.A. NLCS 2 1 0 6 2/3 5 0 1 8
10/18 L.A. NLCS 6 1 0 7 2 0 1 5
10/24 @ Bos. WS 2 1 0 6 3 2 4 6
Totals     5 0 35 2/3 12 3 10 37

"Oh, yeah. I mean, whenever the opportunity presents itself, I try to take advantage of it.," Wacha said Tuesday in a conference call. "So that's the way I've been my whole life, really. So this is another opportunity that I'm going to try to take advantage of and get a win for this ballclub.

"It's going to be a lot of fun [Wednesday night]. [I'm] just really looking forward to it."

If St. Louis can get one more victory from Wacha -- or find one more victory in any way, shape or form -- the probable Game 7 starter for Boston would be Jake Peavy. He has had an admirable career, but in the postseason, he is the anti-Wacha. Peavy is 0-3 with a 9.27 ERA in five postseason starts. Joe Kelly would be the pick in that matchup, combining cool with competitive fire.

The Cards obviously face a difficult task, maybe even an improbable task. But this same task is completely within the range of a baseball team as good and as accomplished in difficult circumstances as the St. Louis Cardinals.

"I think it starts with a mentality that it's a great challenge," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great opportunity for us to go in and prove the kind of team we are, as far as how tough we are mentally, and I think that's where it begins. After that, it comes down to execution. We've got to have Michael come out and throw a big game.

"Once again, we were in that spot backed up where we had to have a win. It's not something we haven't seen before, and the guys know what we have to do; we have to play the game. They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way. Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds. And go out and play the game."

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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