PITTSBURGH (AP) — Michael Wacha heard the chants. Then again, when 40,000 people clad in black scream your name relentlessly for the better part of three hours, it’s kind of hard to miss.
The goal was to rattle the St. Louis rookie, remind him that 22-year-old pitchers aren’t built to withstand the pressure of an elimination game.
One problem. Wacha doesn’t really do rattled. He doesn’t do pressure, either. The louder PNC Park grew, the more unhittable Wacha became.
“I kind of like it,” Wacha said. “It kind of gives me adrenaline. I kind of use it in my favor.”
And the Pittsburgh Pirates — not to mention anyone else he might face in the postseason — “kind of” need to get used to it.
Wacha took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning and the Cardinals showed off their October poise, edging the Pirates 2-1 Monday to force a winner-take-all Game 5 in the NL division series. St. Louis is 7-1 over the last three years with its season on the line.
“I think you take high talent and high character people that are motivated and support each other, and they don’t give up,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “That’s a tough combination.”
One the Pirates are still trying to master. Pedro Alvarez hit his third home run of the series, connecting with one out in the eighth for Pittsburgh’s only hit in Game 4. It wasn’t enough for the Pirates to advance to the NL championship series for the first time in 21 years.
“I guess that’s why we play five,” star center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “We’ll be ready for the fifth one.”
The Pirates weren’t quite ready for the fourth one, not with the way Wacha was dealing. He walked two and struck out nine before giving way to the bullpen in the eighth.
Matt Holliday’s two-run homer off Charlie Morton in the sixth was all the offense required on a day the Cardinals tossed the first one-hitter in the club’s lengthy postseason history.
Trevor Rosenthal worked around a two-out walk in the ninth, retiring McCutchen on a popup to shallow center field for his first postseason save.
“It was a good pitch for him,” McCutchen said. “I wish it got a little more of the barrel. It would have been a great story.”
Instead, a taut series will head back to Busch Stadium.
Game 5 will be Wednesday, with ace Adam Wainwright starting for the NL Central champion Cardinals and rookie Gerrit Cole going for the wild-card Pirates. Both pitchers won last week in the NLDS.
The Cardinals finished with only three hits, and that was enough. Holliday got two of them, including his homer in the sixth after Morton walked big- hitting Carlos Beltran to start the inning.
“You could go back and look at pitches over and over again and second guess yourself,” Morton said. “I don’t know where that pitch was. It was outer third somewhere, thigh-down and he went out and got it, he’s strong.”
So was the 6-foot-6 kid on the one, the one barely a year removed from a standout college career at Texas A&M. Wacha didn’t permit a runner until walking Russell Martin leading off the sixth.