Michael Wacha will take the mound tonight for the St. Louis Cardinals in a win or go home Game 6 of the World Series. The rookie has performed admirably throughout the playoffs, but tonight he'll face the most pressure to date and he'll do it in front of a sold out, hostile Fenway Park crowd.
His opponent, Red Sox starter John Lackey, knows all about the pressures put on a rookie in a big game. It was 11 years ago that Lackey and fellow rookie Francisco Rodriguez (later to be known simply as "K-Rod") stood out in the World Series as rookie performers.
Lackey took the mound for the then Anaheim Angels on October 27, 2002, better known as the decisive 7th game of the 2002 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. Lackey had been far from good in his Game 4 start four days earlier - 5 IP 3 ER 9 H - but manager Mike Scioscia had faith in him to bring Lackey back on three days rest to start the finale on his home field.
Just as Wacha faces a veteran tonight, Lackey faced veteran Livan Hernandez, one of the heroes of the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, in Game 7. Lackey went just five innings again, but his removal from the ball game had more to do with pitching on three days rest than his performance. He departed with a 4-1 lead and had allowed just four hits and a walk. The bullpen did the rest and the Angels captured their first championship. (Hernandez, on the other hand, lasted only two official innings and allowed all five base runners he faced in the 3rd inning to reach base safely before he was pulled from the game.)
When he was queried Tuesday about the 2002 Series, Lackey didn't remember much and pretty much pushed the experience aside.
"That was a long time ago, man. I don't think that's going to play much into (Wednesday). I think most of those guys in that game aren't even playing anymore."
"I was trying to get five or six innings," he said, "and turn it over to those guys (Brendan Donnelly, K-Rod, and Troy Percival). My job was just basically not to screw it up."1Like Wacha, Lackey was instrumental in getting his team to the World Series in '02. He replaced Ramon Ortiz in the third inning of Game 3 of the ALDS with his team down 6-1 and tossed three scoreless innings. The Angels rallied for a 9-6 win and a 2 to 1 advantage in the best of five series with the New York Yankees.
Lackey's seven innings of shutout ball gave the Angeles a commanding 3 games to 1 lead over the Minnesota Twins in the '02 ALCS. He allowed three hits, walked none, and struck out 7 for his first post-season win. His 86 pitch performance in the decisive game of the World Series quickly made him a household name.
Wacha has already gotten his 15 minutes of fame and then some. The rookie isn't going anywhere but up though after being the 19th pick in the first round of the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. Wacha has allowed three earned runs in the 27 innings he's thrown over four post-season starts. He has struck out 28 hitters and earned the victory in those four contests.
His numbers include a Game 2 victory against Boston in which he allowed two earned runs in six innings pitched. Now he has a must win game to deal with just as his opposing pitcher did 11 years ago.
1 - newstelegram.com