BOSTON -- A win-or-go-home game is generally not one you'd want to put in the hands of a rookie pitcher.
But Michael Wacha is not your average rookie. Average rookies don't go 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA in the first four postseason starts of their careers.
The St. Louis Cardinals will be counting on the sensational 22-year-old right-hander to keep them alive in the World Series on Wednesday night when they take on Boston in Game 6 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox are ahead, three games to two, with two shots to win the crown.
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said Wacha is up to a challenge that might intimidate some first-year pitchers.
"With his previous experience, Michael is very consistent with how he approaches the game," said Matheny. "It seems like every situation that everybody tries to build up around him, the better he pitches.
"So, right now, we're just anticipating him to stay the course, just do what he's been doing and hope his stuff will be good enough. I believe that it will with what he's been doing."
Wacha had to battle in Game 2 at Fenway but held the Red Sox to three hits and two runs in six innings as St. Louis took a 4-2 victory. Boston manager John Farrell said that experience will help his hitters the second time around, but he wasn't expecting big-game jitters to suddenly strike Wacha.
"He has had the postseason he has had because he's an extremely talented guy," said Farrell, whose club worked out Tuesday at chilly Fenway. "When you consider not just Wacha but all of their young pitchers, they've done a great job of meeting the challenge they're thrown into.
"That includes the environment in which they pitch. We know he's going to come at us; we have some familiarity. Obviously, Game 2 was a set of experiences that we can draw from. We fully expect him to be as equal to the way he was in Game 2."
Wacha knows what's at stake if he turns into a pumpkin the day before Halloween. Instead of cowering under that pressure, he actually seemed to be relishing it.
"I imagine it's going to be crazy but I'm not going to pay any attention to it," he said. "I'll keep going about my business the way I have been in all of my starts this year.
"Whatever the opportunity, I try to take advantage of it. That's the way I've been my whole life, really. This is another opportunity that I'm going to try to take advantage of and get a win for this ballclub.
"It's going to be a lot of fun and I'm really looking forward to it."
Frenzy at Fenway: As wonderful as it was for Red Sox fans for their team to end an 86-year drought without a World Series crown in 2004, then add another in 2007, neither clinching game took place at Fenway Park. Boston swept St. Louis in '04 and Colorado in '07, completing those romps on the road.
That's why Beantown was abuzz when the Red Sox won Game 5 in St. Louis, assuring the Series would return to Fenway. Boston will have not one but two chances to win the championship before their home crowd for the first time since 1918.
Red Sox fans still bemoan the Game 7 loss to Cincinnati in 1975, robbing them of a chance to celebrate in their home park. Now, the expectation is for that to happen as there seems no stopping their worst-to-first club.
"We're certainly looking forward to getting on the field (Wednesday)," said Farrell. "We continue to beat that drum. We'll continue to focus on that sole thing, but I think our fans have appreciated the way we've gone about playing the game.
"In return, the way they've demonstrated their appreciation, the energy that they create in here, we have certainly fed off of that. I'm sure it's going to be an incredible atmosphere here (Wednesday) night."
The Cardinals had more to worry about Tuesday than the atmosphere awaiting them at Fenway. Due to mechanical problems, their afternoon charter flight was delayed for several hours in St. Louis before taking off. Beyond the players and staff, there were families on board including children.
"Fortunately, we have plenty of food, snacks for the kids, lots of entertainment with on-board movies, and most everybody travels with all their high-tech stuff," Matheny said on a conference call from the plane. "Most of the kids are pretty happy they're not in school right now, and it's a great way to spend a day, so no complaints so far."
As for the atmosphere that awaits the Cardinals at Fenway Park, Matheny said it helps to have played there already in Games 1 and 2.
"The ramped-up atmosphere is really one of the perks and benefits playing in the postseason," said Matheny. "Guys have played their whole career and dream about being in this atmosphere where the fans are excited, into it, the place is packed and alive and buzzing. So, that really isn't a detriment to our success.
"I think there is a little bit to be said about the familiarity of the situation concerning the field. The boys wondered what Fenway would look like, how it would play, different questions about Boston in general. So right now we have a better feel for their club, a better feel for their field. Now, it's just a matter of going out and playing ball."
Painful journey: No player ever has been happier to be in a postgame interview room than Boston catcher David Ross after Game 5 on Monday night at Busch Stadium.
"I'm up here talking to you guys, this is pretty cool, right?" said the excitable Ross, drawing laughs from media members in the room.
Ross had reason to be thrilled beyond the tiebreaking double he yanked into the left-field corner off St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright in the seventh inning that propelled the Red Sox to a 3-1 victory and control of the Series. Considering the physical agony he endured during the regular season, Ross was happy just to be still playing.
"There were times I was questioning whether my career was over," admitted the 36-year-old veteran.
Within a span of 10 pitches in a game in Toronto in early May, Ross took a pair of foul tips directly off his hockey-style mask. He continued to play with the effects of post-concussion syndrome -- dizziness, memory loss, nausea -- until his wife told him he had to stop.
Ross went on the disabled list June 18 and didn't return until Aug. 9, missing 41 games. He had missed three weeks earlier in the season with a similar concussion. Having already played with six teams in 12 years, he worried about being discarded by the playoff-bound Red Sox.
"The trip I've taken this year, I never thought I'd be here," he said. "I'm just in awe of being in the World Series, really. Thanks to a lot of positive people, good doctors, I'm here and I've got to thank the manager for having faith in me and putting me in that position."
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