Wacha-Lackey contrast goes beyond age
Game 6 starters bring different talents to mound as they seek same goal
BOSTON -- In 1967, mature veteran and ultimate Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson made three starts for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Now, 46 years later, the same two teams face one another on baseball's biggest stage. This time, the starting pitcher for the Cardinals is a young, extremely talented and highly successful contrast to the past. He will be facing a seasoned, crafty veteran with years of experience and a great knowledge of the game.
The Cards will be starting 22-year-old Michael Wacha. He will be facing the Red Sox and 35-year-old John Lackey. Beyond their age difference, the two represent two distinct methods of reaching the same goal: Getting the other team out.
Wacha takes his place among an outstanding group of young, powerful pitchers we've seen pitch brilliantly in this postseason.
Gerrit Cole played a very prominent role in the Pittsburgh Pirates' quest for October baseball. Sonny Gray was outstanding as a major contributor as the Oakland Athletics challenged the Detroit Tigers. Tampa Bay Rays starter Alex Cobb was instrumental in beating the Cleveland Indians and their flamethrowing right-hander Danny Salazar.
Wacha is the last among them still in the hunt for a coveted World Series ring.
Wacha will bring two very polished, very refined pitches as his primary weapons against the Red Sox. The right-hander will rely very heavily on a 94-95-mph fastball and an 87-mph changeup. One is the bread, the other the butter. But he also has another weapon that he's been using a little more lately. Just to keep hitters guessing a bit, Wacha mixes in a nifty 77-mph curveball to keep the hitter even more off-balance.
What makes the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Wacha so special is his arm action. Pitching downhill, he repeats his delivery extremely well. Wacha doesn't change the way he throws the changeup from the fastball. His arm action remains consistent.
Deceiving hitters and changing their eye level and balance at the plate is what makes Wacha so successful. If the hitter looks for the fastball and the changeup darts down and away, the hitter swings over the top. Wacha gets lots of swings and misses.
Wacha throws strikes. He is around the plate most of the time, using the corners as his primary allies. Wacha isn't afraid to pitch inside. Or outside.
Wacha's greatest challenge will be the manner in which he faces David Ortiz. Ortiz is so skilled, he has patience enough to wait for a pitch he can drive. He will be able to detect the changeup or curveball and drive either to the gaps or over the wall. Ortiz will use his experience against Wacha's arsenal.
Choosing to pitch around Ortiz and not giving him any pitches he can see may be the best strategy.
Wacha and his Cardinals teammates will be facing 11-year veteran Lackey.
What is the common denominator between Lackey and Wacha? They are both fearless competitors. The opposition won't rattle them.
After missing 2012 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Lackey has reinvented himself this season. He has lost weight and returned to the Red Sox in tremendous condition. Lackey is strong and fit, showing no signs of fatigue. In fact, he threw 17 pitches in relief during Game 5 after his start in Game 2.
Like Wacha, Lackey sees the finish line and will do whatever it takes to secure a victory. Also like Wacha, he's tough. Lackey is smart. And he's good.
In this rebound season, Lackey gave up 179 hits in 189 1/3 innings. He had a 3.52 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. Lackey struck out 161 and walked 40. He was in control on the mound.
Lackey will be throwing an entire arsenal of pitches at the Cards. He has a 92-mph fastball that he uses at least half the time. It's the base around which Lackey's repertoire is built.
Working off the fastball, Lackey throws a wicked slider, a curveball and a changeup. He isn't afraid to use any of his pitches at any time in the sequence. But it's the fastball that makes everything else work. Lackey uses his slider as a "chase" pitch. Hitters go after it, but it isn't always near the strike zone.
Lackey uses two types of fastballs. His sinking two-seamer is complemented by his rising four-seamer. He commands them both. But it is Lackey's slider and curveball can easily be termed his "out pitches." Both are thrown in the mid-80-mph range. He also spots an occasional changeup that is toughest on left- handed hitters.
Of course, hitters like the ball in the middle of the plate. That's not where Lackey throws. He's more in the area code around the plate, but rarely in the middle.
Wacha and Lackey met in Game 2 of this World Series. It was a classic match that the Cardinals ultimately won.
Two completely different pitchers with 13 years difference in age and 10 1/2 years different in Major League experience will take the ball for their respective teams.
No doubt, Gibson will be watching. He's been there before himself.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.