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Young Cardinals starters brace for PNC Park atmosphere

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Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
 

ST. LOUIS — Cardinals rookie pitcher Michael Wacha, who will start Game 4 of the NLDS on Monday, watched the National League wild-card game. He saw Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto drop the ball as the PNC Park crowd chanted his last name and watched him give up a home run on the following pitch. He saw the packed house reach another level of frenzy.

Is Wacha ready for that environment? Is he ready for Waaaaa-chaaa, Waaaaa-chaaa chants?

He knows he has an ideal surname for 40,000 postseason-starved, perhaps Iron City Beer-fueled fans to break down into two syllables and repeat.

“It's going to happen. Might as well get prepared for it,” Wacha said.

After their 7-1 loss to the Pirates on Friday in Game 2, the Cardinals were aware the playoff pendulum had swung out of their favor.

By splitting the first two games of the series, the Cardinals cede home-field advantage to the Pirates. The Cardinals must travel to PNC Park for Games 3 and 4, where they will field two inexperienced starting pitchers in a charged atmosphere.

Wacha (4-1, 2.79 ERA) was one of two Cardinals 2012 first-round picks, a compensation pick for the Angels signing Albert Pujols. Wacha has been in professional baseball just over a year. He said the most charged atmosphere he has pitched in came during his college career at Texas A&M.

“I'm going back to college against Florida State. That place was pretty rowdy in our (2012) Super Regional game to go to Omaha (at Tallahassee, Fla.). That was a pretty crazy crowd there,” Wacha said. “We won and went to the (college) World Series. You just try to feed off that adrenaline and use it in your favor.”

The Cardinals also will start an inexperienced pitcher in Game 3. Joe Kelly, who is in second year in the big leagues, will be making his first postseason start. Kelly has had success against the Pirates in two starts this season, allowing two runs in 12 innings.

While his starting pitchers have little big-stage experience, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny noted his everyday lineup has plenty of postseason familiarity.

Cardinals third baseman David Freese has been one of the game's best postseason performers. He talked about his road playoff experience.

“At first, it's a little overwhelming,” Freese said. “But (you're calm) after you've had a few experiences.”

Matheny said his players know what to expect.

“I guess if we had a group of guys that had never been in an atmosphere like that before, you just wonder,” Matheny said.

“But we've had a lot of conversations, small groups and as a club, guys talking about the energy they get even from the other team and the other team's fans. We encourage guys to enjoy it.

“They're going to be rowdy, and they're going to be into it and they should be. It's a great opportunity for us to go out and perform despite what else is going on the outside.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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