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The Strike Zone

Five Cuts: Michael Wacha's near miss, Jason Giambi's heroics, Tigers clinch

Cardinals' star rookie Michael Wacha lost his no-hitter on Tuesday, but may make the playoff roster. (AP) Cardinals' star rookie Michael Wacha lost his no-hitter on Tuesday, but may make the playoff roster. (AP)

1. Michael Wacha brings it

Let the debate begin: Michael Wacha or Lance Lynn?

Wacha or Joe Kelly?

All season long Shelby Miller has been the heralded rookie pitcher in St. Louis. Tuesday night, however, belonged to Michael Wacha, the Cardinals’ other young Texan with the dazzling arsenal. The 22-year-old rookie made his case for a postseason start with a dominant performance at Busch Stadium against the Nationals: Wacha was one out from throwing the 11th hitter in Cardinals history before Ryan Zimmerman’s infield single broke up the no-no.

With two outs in the ninth, Zimmerman hit a chopper over the head of the 6-5 pitcher—“Unfortunately I think it actually nicked off my glove,” Wacha said in a post-game interview with MLB Network. Shortstop Pete Kozma fielded the grounder with his bare hand and lasered the ball to first, but his throw was just wide, pulling first baseman Matt Adams off the bag:

[mlbvideo id="30908823" width="600" height="360"/]

Wacha would have been the 10th youngest pitcher in major league history to toss a no hitter. It was the third time this season that a no-hitter was broken up with two outs in the ninth. Manager Mike Matheny removed Wacha after Zimmerman’s hit, and Trevor Rosenthal closed things out in St. Louis’ 2-0 over the Nationals. St. Louis’ magic number to clinch the division is now three.

Making his ninth career start — and 15th major league appearance, Wacha threw a career high 112 pitches, 77 for strikes, with nine strikeouts (six swinging). His fastball average 95 mph. His changeup was downright nasty. Wacha was in full control from the first pitch of the night, a 93 mph fastball for a called strike on Denard Span, and showed that he clearly has the stuff to be a difference maker for St. Louis in October. How good has he been this season? This was already the third time Wacha went seven innings while allowing two hits or fewer.

So: What next for Wacha?

2. The Giambino has the biggest hit of the night (and perhaps the year)

When the Indians look back on their magical 2013 season, this may be the Moment of the Year: Jason Giambi ripping a two-run home run with two outs in the ninth to give the Indians a stunning 5-4 win over the White Sox. The 42-year-old graybeard launched a 1-1 pitch off Addison Reed into the lower deck in rightfield at Progressive Park. It was the Indians’ 11th walk-off win of the season—and easily their most dramatic:

[mlbvideo id="30909643" width="600" height="360"/]

Given what was at stake and how this was looking like a disastrous night for the Indians—the White Sox homered twice off closer Chris Perez in the top of the ninth to take a one-run lead — Giambi’s bomb is Cleveland’s biggest hit of the season so far. This win may have been their biggest of the season. It’s been a strange, magical year for Giambi, who last October was interviewing for the Rockies managerial job. This was his 10th career walk-off homer, and his second pinch-hit, walk-off this season. In July he became the oldest player to hit a walk-off homer, breaking a mark held by Hank Aaron.

All three teams atop the wild card standings— the Rays, Indians, and Rangers —won on Tuesday, so Tampa remains the wild card leaders in the AL, with Cleveland a game back for the second spot, and Texas one game behind the Indians.

3. It’s time to believe in Ubaldo.

It was a bold trade. At the 2011 trade deadline, the Indians dealt away a pair of highly-regarded young pitchers, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, for a struggling Ubaldo Jimenez. A year earlier, in 2010, Jimenez had finished third in Cy Young voting, but at the time of the jaw-dropping deal, the 6-foot-5 righthander looked utterly lost. Did the Rockies know that something was wrong with Jimenez? It seemed that way: Jimenez’s struggled continued in Cleveland, and last year, the one-time ace was one of the worst pitchers in the American League.

Now? Jimenez is pitching like an ace again — and he’s one of the biggest reasons why the Indians have a shot at their first postseason appearance since 2007. Before Giambi ripped his game-winning home run and Chris Perez blew the save, Jimenez was excellent for 6 1/3 innings, allowing two runs while striking out seven. Jimenez, who has allowed four runs over his last five starts, lowered his ERA to 3.38 and now has 181 strikeouts for the season.

It’s time to start thinking about starters for the one-game wild card playoff. Who’s your man if you’re Terry Francona? How about Ubaldo?

4. The Tigers clinch a playoff berth

There was no champagne in the clubhouse. No wild celebration on the field.

The Tigers are in — but their work is far from done. Doug Fister struck out seven over 6 1/3 innings and the Tigers homered three times in the fouth inning as they clinched a playoff berth with a 4-2 win over the Twins in Minnesota. Jim Leyland’s crew has led the AL Central for 152 of 177 days this season. The Indians might be a better story, but the Tigers, who are 46-29 against AL Central teams, have clearly been the most complete team in the division. The Tigers are going to the postseason for a third straight season for the first time since 1907-1909.

5. Gerrit Cole brings it, too

The Cardinals won. The Reds lost. The Pirates won. So here’s where we are in the NL Central: the Cardinals in first, the Pirates two games back in second, and the Reds a game behind Pittsburgh.

Wacha’s brilliant night overshadowed yet another impressive pitching performance by a rookie on a contender. Last Thursday Gerrit Cole struck out 12 Padres in a 10-1 win for the Pirates, and Tuesday he dominated the Cubs, holding Chicago to two runs over six innings in the Pirates 8-2 win. Cole has now tossed eight straight quality starts and looks poised for a star-making postseason.
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