BOSTON -- Before Michael Wacha walked off the mound for the last time as a rookie, hanging his head for the first time in more than a magical month, the Cardinals' veteran catcher stepped into the way.
Yadier Molina leaned in for a quick word.
What precisely was said will have to wait, because Wacha was so mad about the Red Sox rallying for the second straight inning that he forgot to listen, and the Cardinals closed their clubhouse before Molina could explain. But the gesture itself was clear: a show of respect for a 22-year-old who helped carry the Cardinals far enough to play a World Series Game 6 in the first place.
"I think we found a 1A, as far as aces go," said left fielder Matt Holliday, referring to pairing Wacha with top starter Adam Wainwright. "He pitched like an ace."
After Koji Uehara finished Boston's 6-1 win, Fenway Park went wild and the Cardinals retreated to their quiet and cramped clubhouse, Wainwright leaned into Wacha for a few words of his own.
"I told him he's amazing," Wainwright said. "I told him we would never be in a situation we were in right now, playing in a World Series, without his effort down the stretch and in the postseason. He's just a great, great guy with great, great stuff and great ability and a great future."
But Wacha finally appeared mortal Wednesday for the first time since Sept. 19, when he surrendered four runs and 12 hits in Colorado. Pitching against the Red Sox for the second time in seven days, he lasted only 3 2/3 innings and was charged with six runs, two of which scored off an ineffective Lance Lynn after Wacha's exit.
Among the five hits off Wacha was Shane Victorino's bases-clearing, game-breaking double in the third inning, the first hit with a man in scoring position against Wacha all October.
Among the four walks were a pair of intentional passes to "Big Papi" -- Sox slugger and World Series MVP David Ortiz -- who scored in both instances.
"It's very disappointing, Wacha said. "Everyone on this club wants that ring. I didn't want to win it for myself. I wanted to win it for these guys on this clubhouse who have been working all year, working their tail off all year. Whenever I have a poor outing like that, it hurts even worse. I feel like I just let the team down, It's not a very good feeling, that's for sure."
Wainwright was among a number of Wacha's teammates who took care after the game to remind the rookie of the good things he'd done, including the fact he took the mound for Game 6 with a chance to be the third pitcher in history to win five times in a single postseason. They reminded Wacha that he'd flirted with a no-hitter in an elimination game against the Pirates during the National League Division Series, and that he twice outdueled Clayton Kershaw while beating the Dodgers twice in the NLCS.
Rook runs out of gas
|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|
|10/24||@ Bos.||WS 2||1||0||6||3||2||4||6|
|10/30||@ Bos.||WS 6||0||1||3 2/3||5||6||4||5|
Then they reminded reporters the same things.
"I don't think there are enough words to describe how great he was," Allen Craig said.
"He's a part of history with what he's all about this month, and he should be extremely proud," David Freese said. "He's a huge reason we got to this point."
"He'll be back in a big spot like this for us," Daniel Descalso said. "The guy has great stuff, great composure and it was really fun watching him pitch this postseason.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny might have best summed up Wacha's whirlwind five weeks.
"People hadn't even heard of him," Matheny said. "There's a lot of guys that come in this league and are able to be a flash in the pan, but to pitch the kind of games he did and how he handled and controlled himself, those are rare qualities that he was able to show. Those are things he's going to put on his mantle and hold in his mind, and hopefully for a long time we're going to see Michael Wacha perform like that. And hopefully in October."
Wacha, who won Game 2 of the Series here by allowing only Ortiz's two-run home run in six quality innings, saw Game 6 get away from him in the third. He had worked around a walk in a scoreless first, then escaped a jam in the second after Jonny Gomes led off with a single and Victorino walked.
Boston broke through in a third inning sparked by Jacoby Ellsbury's leadoff single. When Ellsbury advanced on a Dustin Pedroia groundout, Matheny opted to intentionally walk Ortiz, and Wacha then did his part by striking out Mike Napoli for the second time.
That brought to the plate Gomes, Boston's hero in Game 4 who was otherwise 1-for-16 in the Series. Wacha spun a curveball through the strike zone to even the count at 1-1, but followed with a critical mistake, an errant fastball that struck Gomez near the elbow.
Lack of six-cess
|Year||Opponent||Game 6||Series result|
|2013||Red Sox||6-1 L||Red Sox in 6|
|2011||Rangers||10-9 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1987||Twins||11-5 L||Twins in 7|
|1985||Royals||2-1 L||Royals in 7|
|1982||Brewers||13-1 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1968||Tigers||13-1 L||Tigers in 7|
|1967||Red Sox||8-4 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1964||Yankees||8-3 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1946||Red Sox||4-1 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1944||Browns||3-1 W||Cardinals in 6|
|1934||Tigers||4-3 W||Cardinals in 7|
|1931||Athletics||8-1 L||Cardinals in 7|
|1930||Athletics||7-1 L||Athletics in 6|
|1926||Yankees||10-2 W||Cardinals in 7|
With the bases loaded, up stepped Victorino, the Red Sox hitter one does not want to face with the bases loaded in the postseason. He already owned the Major League record for postseason RBIs with the bases full -- 16 and counting.
Make it 19 after Victorino drove a 93-mph fastball off the Green Monster, a loud "clank" preceding a deafening cheer at sold-out Fenway Park while the manual scoreboard operator went to work reflecting Boston's 3-0 lead.
"It helped a lot [seeing Wacha earlier in the series], getting an idea," Victorino said. "We go up with the attitude that we're coming. We're going to play every single out, every single inning, and if you're not ready, then we're going to try and beat you, we're going to go at you. We're not afraid to do that."
The Cardinals' deficit would grow in the following inning, when Wacha surrendered a leadoff home run to slumping Sox shortstop Stephen Drew and found more trouble when Ellsbury doubled. Again, Pedroia was retired, and again Ortiz intentionally walked, and that was all for Wacha's blur of a 2013 season.
Lynn was summoned, and promptly allowed a single, a walk and another single, pushing the Boston lead to 6-0.
"I just made too many mistakes," Wacha said. "You have to make pitches when it matters, and I didn't do that tonight."
Wacha made no excuses. His body felt "great." So did his arm, which was worked for 180 1/3 innings in Wacha's first professional season, well beyond what is typical for a top pitching prospect.
Perhaps in the coming days, Wacha will remember what Molina told him on the way off the mound. Perhaps Wacha will be able to better appreciate his outrageous October.
"It's an incredible accomplishment just to get to the World Series," he said. "I think maybe in a week or so, I'll be able to think back about the season, on my season, and think how it went and such, but I haven't really had time to think about it."