ST. LOUIS - Davey Johnson, a Texas A&M guy, couldn't help but be impressed with what Michael Wacha, another A&M guy, did tonight, as the 22-year-old right-hander came just inches away from a no-hitter in the Cardinals' 2-0 win over the Nationals.
Wacha was one out away from being the first Cardinals pitcher to throw a no-hitter in St. Louis in 30 years, but Ryan Zimmerman's slow tapper deflected off Wacha's glove, and Pete Kozma's barehanded grab and throw pulled Matt Adams off the first base bag, giving Zimmerman an infield single.
If Wacha makes that grab, he likely gets Zimmerman at first. If he doesn't touch the ball at all and it gets through to Kozma cleanly, Zimmerman is likely out, as well. Instead, the ball just was slowed up enough, and Zimmerman was able to beat Kozma's throw that was just to the home plate side of the first base bag.
As first base umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled Zimmerman safe, the 38,940 in attendance at Busch Stadium groaned in frustration, and Wacha placed his glove over his mouth, aware of just how close he came to history.
"I tell you, that made Texas A&M proud," Johnson said. "That Aggie pitched a heck of a ballgame. And if he hadn't gone after that ball, Zim probably ... it would've been right to the shortstop. Otherwise, he had to make a tough play and it was a base hit. But it was a great game he pitched."
A team never wants to be no-hit. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. So while the Cardinals wrapped up their 2-0 win just minutes after Zimmerman's infield single busted Wacha's no-no, the Nats can at least take a little satisfaction in the fact that they weren't on the losing end of the 239th no-hitter in the modern era.
"Oh, yeah. You never want to," Johnson said. "You're doing everything you can to wish him back luck, talking about it, what you don't do on the other side. We hit some balls hard right at people, but he threw a lot of strikes. It was well-pitched. What'd he end up with, 112-113 pitches? (It was 112.) Tough loss."
The Nats won't be heading to the postseason this year, but they got to experience a postseason vibe in the ninth tonight, when everyone in attendance came to their collective feet and the decibel level rose as the top of the ninth went deeper.
"I mean, it's a great experience for those guys, being in these kinds of games," Johnson said. "But it's not a great experience to come out on the losing side."
This was just Wacha's ninth career start and 15th career major league game. The 2012 first-round pick was pitching in college games a little more than a year ago, but tonight he dominated a big league lineup that has been on fire for much of the last two months.
"I've seen him a little bit on TV. I like him," Johnson said. "I was thinking command would be an issue. But it certainly wasn't an issue today. I mean, it was a rapid ascent to the big leagues, and he's proven he belongs here. They've got a good pitcher.
"He really located his fastball well, had a little split. Threw hard. Stayed on the corners, in and out. He was impressive."
Did Johnson feel that any of what happened tonight was due to a letdown from his guys after being eliminated from the postseason picture last night?
"No, I don't feel any letdown," Johnson said. "They've got a good ballclub, and we've got to play good to beat them."
Like Johnson, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was incredibly impressed with what he saw from his starter.
"Wow," Matheny said. "You can't, the stuff, the composure, I mean, just watching him there in the ninth, that pitch he threw to (Denard) Span at 3-2, that changeup, I think pretty much exemplifies his thought process at the time. He was able to tune everything out. For a kid to do that, against a lineup like this, at this time of the season, hard to really get your head around it. Man, that was some kind of fun to watch.
"That was something that not many people get to witness from a veteran let alone a young pitcher. Once again, to put everything in perspective, and how big of a win that is for us, every time we go out there now. I'd say he did his part."