CHICAGO -- Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha labored throughout his start in Monday's Game 3 vs. the Cubs in the National League Division Series. By the fifth inning, it was clear that Wacha's outing was nearing its end. Manager Mike Matheny had lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist warming in the bullpen.
Matheny went to Siegrist one pitch too late, perhaps. Wacha gave up a one-out single to Jorge Soler, and it was followed by a two-run homer from Kris Bryant for the go-ahead runs in the Cubs' 8-6 victory.
Matheny had Siegrist lined up to face left-handed hitting Anthony Rizzo, but could Siegrist have fared better than Wacha one batter earlier vs. Bryant? Although a southpaw, Siegrist has been better vs. right-handers this season. Righties batted .164 against him compared to .278 for lefty hitters. He had the lowest opponent batting average among all NL left-handed pitchers.
Furthermore, Bryant actually hit right-handers (.284/.376/.499) better than left-handers (.246/.345/.452) this season.
Wacha started out in a 3-0 count. In an at-bat that featured all fastballs, it was a full-count 94-mph pitch up and over the heart of the plate that was tattooed into the left-field bleachers.
"That's not how you want to start off an AB with that kind of guy," Wacha said. "I tried to battle him back in there and left the 3-2 fastball up in the zone. He just lifted it and got it out of there."
Wacha was pulled immediately after the Bryant homer, but Siegrist didn't fare much better. His 2-2 fastball to first batter Rizzo was hammered to right field for another homer.
"They jumped on Michael for a couple, and I thought he got better as he went, but he just had a little trouble early on and really did manage the damage overall," Matheny said. "I thought his fastball as he was finishing up was probably at the best it's been all night. He gets behind in the count to Bryant and gets a lot of the plate, and these guys will make you pay in this park for sure when that wind is doing what it's doing."
In 4 1/3 innings and 90 pitches, Wacha allowed four earned runs and six hits with three walks and five strikeouts. He also gave up three home runs after having allowed four homers over his previous six postseason games.
Only six of Wacha's first 16 pitches went for strikes during the first inning -- the first sign that it might not be his night. He issued a one-out walk and a single, but he got out of the jam when Rizzo lined into a double play.
"My fastball command really wasn't there early on," Wacha said. "I started to find it and was feeling pretty good. I got into a little groove there for a little bit. I left too many pitches up in the zone, and they made me pay for it."
The Cardinals stayed in the game against ace Jake Arrieta, who saw his 34 innings scoreless streak snapped with four earned runs allowed. A two-run top of the fourth gave Wacha a 2-1 lead.
"Our guys put together some great at-bats against him and really did a good job against him," Wacha said. "They got him out of the game early. I just didn't do my job out there and didn't keep us in the game."