The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals team is remembered for a lot of things. Hitting .330 with runners in scoring position, an unsustainable-but-who-cares type of stat that carried the team to the NL Central title. There was also Shelby Miller's near-perfect game. A dominant return-to-form season from Adam Wainwright. And Michael Wacha, the rookie, bursting onto the scene and pitching 8 2/3 of no-hit ball late in the season against the Nationals only to lose it on a somewhat flukey infield single from Ryan Zimmerman.
Wacha, as we all know, didn't let up. He saved the team in the NLDS when they were facing elimination in Pittsburgh by taking another no-hit bid late into a game on the biggest of stages. He was then the best pitcher in the NLCS, which also featured Clayton Kershaw, earning him NLCS MVP honors. Pretty big stuff for a 21-year-old.
Wacha was the ace in waiting since Wainwright was already on the other side of 30. But then, because baseball is cruel, especially to pitchers, the shoulder injury happened and after the first half of the 2014 season he was never quite able to live up to those humongous expectations that were probably never fair in the first place.
A few years passed with Wacha being nothing but a perfectly good pitcher and there were still rumblings (online, at least) of maybe moving him to the bullpen when he seemed out of sorts in 2016. With the rise of Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, et al, there has been lot of gushing over the Cardinals' near-future starting five-man rotation, which Wacha seems always noticeably absent from.
Then, today, Wacha took the mound as he has reliably all year and no-hit the Pirates for eight innings before losing it on a single to right from Colin Moran. The slow-moving bottom of the 8th may not have helped but who knows. Wacha was promptly pulled after the single as he should have been (he was at 111 pitches), with that hit and two walks being the only blemish on his record. He struck out eight.
Had he completed the no-hitter, it would have been the first by a Cardinals since Bud Smith in 2001 and only the tenth in franchise history. I ached for Wacha when he lost his no-hit bid against Washington in 2013 but only a little bit because it seemed so certain that a wonderful career was in front of him. And while it's easy to forget, he's had a great career for a 26-year-old, but damn was I hoping he would get those final three outs to make up for the one he had narrowly missed in 2013, as well as the other possible "what if" moments that might be on his resume but for injuries.
What Wacha did today though was the next best thing. He reminded everyone with a dominant performance that he's still here and we should be thankful. Good on you, Michael Wacha. That was beautiful.