“You were hoping it would drop,” Gonzalez said. “He was catching a lot of breaks. There were guys making some good plays. At the same time, he pitched great.”
With two outs, Denard Span dropped a bunt attempt down the third base line. As the ball trickled foul across the chalk, the crowd hurled boos at Span. With the element of surprise no longer at his disposal, Span swung away. He chopped to second to end the inning. After six innings, Wacha had thrown 54 out of 70 pitches for strikes.
Wacha needed only nine outs. Zimmerman moved ahead, 2-0, and then Wacha threw him four consecutive change-ups. After one strike, Zimmerman looked back at the home plate umpire — catcher Yadier Molina’s framing had earned a call. Zimmerman drew a walk, but the surprising pitch selection revealed Molina’s crucial role in Wacha’s gem.
“Yadi does such a good job of receiving the ball that he gets a lot of calls that other guys don’t get and rightfully so,” Zimmerman said. “Yadi is one of the best, if not the best, back there calling games and things like that. But to throw four or five change-ups in a row when you throw 94-97, that’s not something I expected. And he was throwing it for a strike, too.”
Wacha immediately returned to dominance. Werth popped up to right. Bryce Harper waved at a change-up that bounced in front of the plate for strike three. Ian Desmond whacked a grounder to second.
Six outs to go. LaRoche checked his swing on a 3-2 change-up and drew a leadoff walk. Ramos grounded the 2-0 fastball on three hops to Kozma, who started a 6-4-3 double play. Rendon drew gasps when he poked a flyball to the left field corner, but Shane Robinson made a long run and tracked it down a few feet from the side wall.
“We’re trying to win that ballgame,” LaRoche said. “And then you get in the ninth inning and then it’s just, ‘Let’s get a hit and not be on the highlights for the next 10 years.’ ”
Three outs to go. No one in the majors had more pinch hits than Steve Lombardozzi’s 13. He moved ahead, 2-0, in the count, but grounded a 2-1 fastball to Kozma, who handled it on a backhand.
Two outs to go. Up came Span. No bunts this time. Wacha nodded when Yadier Molina called for a 3-2 change-up. He painted the outside edge. Span started his swing but could only watch strike three.
“Pretty much exemplifies his thought process at the time,” Matheny said. “He was able to tune everything out.”
One out to go. Zimmerman so rarely swings at the first pitch, but he decided he would look fastball. “The change-up was so good, I didn’t want to get to that,” Zimmerman said.
Wacha fired a 97-mph fastball. Zimmerman swore it looked like a cutter, but he swung anyway and made weak contact. The ball grazed Wacha’s glove. Kozma charged and fired from the middle of the diamond. Zimmerman charged down the line.
“I was just using my blazing speed,” Zimmerman said. “Trying to get there as fast as I can.”
He have beaten the throw, anyway, but Adams had no chance to tag him. The official scorer called it a hit. On first base, Zimmerman asked Adams, “Did Pete barehand it?” He would walk off the field a moment later, another loss the Cardinals, but at least not a no-hitter.