But Wacha could only take this club so far in the first place. The ugly truth is that this was a somewhat ugly World Series showing for the National League champs, though it is a credit to their character that even at their ugliest, they still took the Red Sox to a Game 6, and they even managed to make that Game 6 markedly more interesting than its early innings would have indicated.
Ultimately, the Cardinals lost Game 6, 6-1, on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, primarily because Wacha finally looked more rookie than October legend. But he deserves no real share of the blame here.
The blame -- not just for this final defeat, but for the World Series loss as a whole -- goes to an offense that disengaged the clutch, some mental mishaps and some managerial moves worthy of all the scrutiny they've received.
Game 6 was merely a microcosm, of sorts, of all that tripped up the Cards in a World Series that was seemingly in their hands just five days ago.
Rook runs out of gas
Michael Wacha struggled in Game 6 on Wednesday after dominating in his last start of the regular season and in his previous four postseason starts
"I felt like all six games could have gone either way," first baseman Matt Adams said. "Tonight, if we get a couple knocks with runners in scoring position, it's a different game. But that's the game."
Maybe not all six, but at the very least, the four games decided by two runs or less could have gone either way. So the Fall Classic was every bit the coin flip we all expected it would be.
The Cardinals, however, did not do enough to put the flip in their favor, and that was true on multiple fronts:
• Adam Wainwright had a brutal showing in Game 1 and lost steam late in Game 5, so St. Louis went 0-2 with its ace.
• The defensive effort was an abomination in Game 1, when three errors and eight total miscues were made. The Cards' inability to successfully execute a rundown in the fifth inning of Game 6 wasn't costly, but it was a cruel reminder of the way Game 1 was played.
"When we did make mistakes," said second baseman Matt Carpenter, "they capitalized on them. It just didn't play out the way we hoped."
• Mike Matheny had anything but a magic touch when it came to his decisions on when to pull his starters. He was too quick with the hook of Lance Lynn in Game 4, and too slow to yank Wainwright after Waino walked Stephen Drew in the seventh inning of Game 5. Perhaps it was only fitting, then, that in Game 6, Matheny proved to be too trusting of the young Wacha when it was clear the kid didn't have it the second time through the order. And when Matheny finally pulled Wacha in the fourth, he took a chance on Lynn rather than turning to his regular relievers, and the game continued to get out of hand.
• The pitchers pitched to David Ortiz long past the point where it seemed to cease to make sense.
Then again, when they finally got around to intentionally walking Ortiz in Game 6, he wound up scoring two out of three times they did, so maybe there were no good options here all along.
"We tried to make tough pitches in tough situations, tried to pitch around him at times," Matheny said. "What this comes down to, they got big hits in big situations, and that's something that eluded us this time. It hasn't really all season."
After being the best in the Majors during the 2013 regular season, the Cards struggled with runners in scoring position during the World Series
RISP, two outs
Runners on, two outs
Third, less than two outs
• Yes, that's the big issue. The Redbirds' greatest offensive strength -- a record-setting .330 average with runners in scoring position in the regular season -- eluded them when the stakes were raised and the shifts were exact.
In Game 6, the Cardinals went 1-for-9 with RISP and stranded nine, numbers that fell in line with their frustrations throughout the past week (.214 average with RISP).
And as good as postseason pitching inherently is, the opportunities were plentiful. The Cards outhit the Red Sox, 9-8, in Game 6, and 45-41 overall. The biggest problem was a bottom half of the order that went AWOL. The guys in the Nos. 6-8 spots hit a combined .145 (9-for-62).
"I feel like we had some good at-bats and hit some balls hard," Allen Craig said. "It just didn't work out. The playoffs are a small sample size, but you look at the numbers over the course of the entire season, and it's pretty remarkable. I think we had a lot of good at-bats. It just didn't happen for us."
The shame of this World Series is that while we undoubtedly saw the guts and the fortitude of Craig on display, we definitely didn't see him at his physical peak. Same goes for Carlos Beltran, who severely bruised his ribs on that grand-slam-saving catch in Game 1 and only returned to the lineup by the graces of modern medicine.
For the Cardinals, any reassurance in the wake of the loss that was offered by their youthful pitching staff was quickly countered by the realization that they were not able to get Beltran, a pending free agent, his first ring.
Not long ago, they seemed to be closing in on it. Going into the World Series, the Cards would have been overjoyed to know that they'd hold a 2-1 Series lead after Game 3, given that two of those games were played in the quirky confines of Fenway, where the Red Sox sometimes seem unbeatable.
The results that are going to stick with the Cardinals all winter are Games 4 and 5, because those were the swing games. Matheny's decisions with his starters in those games will linger. But when all is said and done, the offense didn't get the big hits, either.
"You've got to give credit to good pitching," Matheny said. "We had good pitching, they also had good pitching, and we weren't able to get much going on a consistent basis."
Let none of the above mask the fact that the Cards had a sensational season in which they survived and thrived in one of the game's most brutal division battles, further asserted themselves by coming back from the brink against the Pirates in the NL Division Series and dispatched the Dodgers and their $200-million-plus payroll in the NL Championship Series. Pair the results with the storyline, which involved much early season adversity with regard to the health of the pitching staff and the late-season adversity of losing Craig, and it was one heck of a season.
But in the World Series, the Cardinals played largely out of character, culminating in the Fenway frustration of Game 6.