By Paul White, USA TODAY Sports
If there's room in the St. Louis Cardinals' post-season rotation, rookie Michael Wacha made as strong a statement as possible and came as close as possible to a no-hitter Tuesday against the Washington Nationals. Wacha, 21 and in just his ninth major league start, had the no-hit bid broken up by Ryan Zimmerman's chopper over the mound with two outs in the ninth inning.
The ball went over the 6-foot-6 Wacha's head and settled in the grass behind the mound, where shortstop Pete Kozma tried a barehanded pickup and throw in one motion. But Zimmerman beat the throw as first baseman Matt Adams came off the bag to try a swipe tag on Zimmerman but missed.
"I guess it just wasn't meant to be," Wacha said. "I came in with all intentions to just get the win."
Trevor Rosenthal replaced Wacha, who had thrown a career-high 112 pitches, and got the final out.
Wacha walked Zimmerman leading off the seventh inning and Adam LaRoche leading off the eighth. LaRoche had been Washington's only other baserunner with two outs in the fifth when second baseman Matt Carpenter made an error on LaRoche's ground ball.
Wacha struck out a career-high nine batters in his longest outing of a major league career that began May 30. He has just 170 pro innings since signing his first contract June 14, 2012.
The Nationals fielded their regular lineup despite having been eliminated from playoff contention by a loss in St. Louis on Monday.
The Cardinals haven't settled on a rotation behind staff ace Adam Wainwright as their ensured playoff berth approaches. Lance Lynn has struggled in the second half and Wacha has thrust himself into the mix with Joe Kelly and fellow rookie Shelby Miller.
Wacha, a first-round draft pick out of Texas A&M last year, has allowed just six runs and 26 hits in 38 innings since Aug. 22. Over his last five starts - he did not allow a run in three of them - Wacha has a 1.71 earned run average.
The no-hitter would have been the first for the Cardinals since Bud Smith in 2001. The last time the Nationals franchise was held hitless it was as the Montreal Expos - when David Cone of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game in 1999.
The last rookie to throw a no-hitter was Clay Buchholz of the Boston Red Sox. He got his against Baltimore in 2007 in his second major league start.
The two most recent Cardinals no-hitters have been from rookies - Smith and Jose Jimenez in 1999.
Wacha is the third pitcher to come within one out of a no-hitter this season.
Texas' Yu Darvish had his bid broken up April 2 at Houston by Jose Altuve and San Francisco's Yusmeiro Petit need one more batter for a perfect game Sept. 6 against Arizona when Eric Chavez singled.
Darvish and Petit both stayed in to get the final out though Darvish allowed a second hit.
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