The St. Louis Cardinals snagged Michael Wacha “Flocka Flames” with the 19th pick of the first round in 2012's MLB Draft. He came out throwing bows in his big league debut on May 30, 2013, allowing just 1 run, two hits and fanning six in seven solid innings of work.
St. Louis knew they had something special in the 22-year old from jump. On Sept. 24th, he came within an out of throwing a no-hitter. On Friday night, less than a year and a half removed from pitching college ball at Texas A&M, Wacha became the second youngest NLCS MVP in history as he pitched another seven sick innings of shutout ball to compliment an assaulting Cardinals offense in a 9-0 Game 6 NLCS-clinching trouncing of the star-studded Dodgers.
Wacha not only shut down one of the most prolific offenses in the game, he improved his postseason record to 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA. The renegade rookie has been Bob Gibson-stingy allowing just one run and eight hits in a nearly-flawless 21 innings pitched this postseason.
Cardinals veteran Adam Wainwright is a postseason assassin in his own right, but he’s been in MLB for a decade. Who did the Cardinals lean on when they were down 2-1 to the dangerous Pirates (everybody’s favorite underdog) and facing an early NLDS elimination?
Wacha “Flames,” a rookie making his 10th major league start, stepped up with seven shutout innings and nine K’s in a 2-1 Cards win. Wacha blew up Pittsburgh’s flow like some C-4 to their door, and inspired St. Louis to a series win.
St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny was asked in the postgame press conference if he expects his baby-hurler to keep throwing up goose eggs in the World Series.
"I think we just don't talk about it much because we don't want it to change," Matheny said. "We want to see it a few more times, a couple at least. We just want him to think that this is normal and is expected. But in all honesty, if a guy has the ability to perform at that level, he's been able to perform at that level in this kind of environment; he shouldn't have another level of expectation for himself. He should expect that. That's where he is right now."
Wacha is definitely making a place for himself in the history books, especially among the handful of rookie pitchers who have creeped up, got major busy and helped lead their respective teams to a World Series.
Don Newcombe, Dodgers 1949
Two years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier, the Dodgers unleashed the first black pitching star Don Newcombe.
Newcombe was a mean machine on the mound with wicked goods. He posted a 17-8 record and 3.17 ERA, leading the National League with five shutouts in his rookie season and became the first African-American pitcher to start a World Series game.
He also took home the first Rookie of the Year Award, which at that time went to one superior new jack from both leagues.
Fernando Valenzuela, 1981 Dodgers
Yasiel Puig isn’t the first Dodgers rookie to captivate LA and earn overnight mythical status. After debuting as a 19-year-old rookie in a late September call-up in 1980 call-up, Mexican-born left-hander Fernando Valenzuela went 8-0 to start the 1981 season and was 9-4 when baseball was abruptly halted by a two-month strike.
By the time the baseball returned, “Fernandomania” was in full swing. The popularity of the pudgy Mexican hurler, whose eyes flew up into his head before he threw a pitch, helped boost baseball after the strike. He finished the season with a 13-7 record, 2.48 ERA and an MLB-leading 180 K’s and eight shutouts, becoming the only pitcher in history to win both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.
He continued his show-stopping pitching in the post season, going 3-1 with a 2.21 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 40 innings. He had wins to clinch Game 5 of the NLCS and in Game 3 of the World Series.
Valenzuela had the flash and the flair, but he was also a freakish workhorse by modern day standards. The WS game against the Yankees was his defining moment. The 147-pitch complete game, in which he overcame seven walks to beat the Yankees, sparked the Dodgers' comeback from 2-0 down.
Livan Hernandez, 1997 Florida Marlins
Before Willis became a Marlins rookie postseason king, there was rookie Liván Hernández. Hernandez defected from Cuba through Mexico with the help of recruiter Joe Cubas, and the rest is Florida Marlins history.
After posting a 9-3 record and 3.18 ERA in 17 starts in the regular season, Hernandez started in the postseason for the expansion Marlins, entering the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Hernandez immediately established himself as a savvy gamer. He squashed the Atlanta Braves twice in the NLCS, including a historic Game 5 performance in which he fanned 15.
He kept it thorough in the World Series, busting down the Cleveland Indians twice, winning MVP and helping the Marlins capture their first WS in franchise history.
K-Rod, Anaheim Angels 2002
Anaheim Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez was a mid-September call up whose epic postseason pitching performance led Mike Scioscia’s team to an upset of the mighty Yankees and it’s first-ever World Series title. His dominating rubber work marked the emergence of K-Rod, one of the nastiest and most charismatic closers the game has ever seen.
Rodriguez, who made just five appearances during the regular season, was forced into action with the Angels pitching staff ripped with injuries and went 5-1 in the playoffs with a 1.93 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 18.2 innings.
Dontrelle Willis, Florida Marlins 2003
Left-handed hurler Dontrelle Willis pitched a full season in 2003, flossing a 14-6 record and 3.30 ERA in 27 starts.
The young, unorthodox fireballer is one of the all-time characters of the game. His weird motion and charismatic personality made him a fan favorite. The work Willis did out of the bullpen in the World Series against the heavily-favored New York Yankees (three scoreless appearances), helped the Marlins shock the Bronx Bombers in six games, earning him a spot on TSL’s list of rookie postseason phenoms.
Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers 2006
The 2011 Cy Young winner and six-time all-star was the truth from the door. As a 22 year-old rookie he went 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA in 30 starts for the Tigers, helping lead them to the American League pennant and their first World Series in 22 years, before losing in five games to the St. Louis Cardinals in the WS.