BOSTON – In Game 2 of the World Series Thursday night at Fenway Park, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will send 22-year-old rookie right-hander Michael Wacha on the mound. If the game goes as the Cardinals hope, Matheny may go to 23-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal for the save.
Wacha will be opposed by 35-year-old John Lackey. If Red Sox manager John Farrell is looking for a save, he will go to 38-year-old Koji Uehara.
On paper, the Red Sox and Cardinals appear to be very similar teams. Both have strong starting pitching, solid bullpens, and potent lineups. But, look again at that paper, in the column listing dates of birth. The Cardinals have five players on their roster born in the 1990s – Carlos Martinez, Wacha, Shelby Miller, Rosenthal, and Kolten Wong. The Red Sox have just one – Xander Bogaerts.
The Cardinals have not shied away from using those young players in high-pressure situations. Wacha, who made his big league debut in May, started and won the decisive Game 6 in the NLCS against the Dodgers, his second win in the series, besting Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw.
“I think it's just part of their makeup,” Matheny said of his youngsters. “I think that some kids have it, some don't. Some is developed over time, and then, they're ready.
“I'd say the biggest piece of this, really, and what has been making these kids flourish at this level, is the fact that we have a culture here with our veterans that's different from a lot of other teams I've seen. These kids, they're put in their place; they know they're rookies.
“They put their time in, but it's a situation where guys are constantly teaching. That's a Carlos Beltran and Yadi Molina, and [Adam] Wainwright and [Chris] Carpenter and [Jake] Westbrook and[Matt] Holliday, where you constantly see these guys off to the side talking baseball. And they believe they have that responsibility to give back.
“I think they've done a nice job of listening to the veterans to say, ‘Hey, stick with what we've done so far.' We trust in each other. We trust in our stuff. We trust in our talent level. And we don't need to do any more than that. And that's a pretty comforting thought going into the postseason.”
Matheny is expected to go with a rotation of Adam Wainwright, Wacha, Joe Kelly, and Lance Lynn. Combined they have 14 big league seasons among them. Farrell is expected to go with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Lackey, and Jake Peavy, who have a combined 38 big league seasons.
The Red Sox rotation, though, also stands as proof that youth can perform. Lackey made his major league debut in June 2002, when Wacha was just 10 years old. Later that season Lackey was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series. Lester was just 23 when he was the starting pitcher in the clinching game of the 2007 World Series in Colorado.
“This team is loaded with talent, loaded with arms with crazy experience,” Peavy said. “Our first two guys have won clinching World Series games. ... That’s pretty impressive. To be part of a staff that’s as experienced as this is a dream come true.”
There is obviously more experience with veterans, but if players, regardless of age, aren’t able to execute, they’re not going to be on the field. But perhaps there is a benefit to youth.
“I feel like they kind of have no fear as young guys,” said Red Sox catcher David Ross. “They know they’re good and they’re executing it. As a veteran team, you try to find if there is a weakness in them and try to exploit that. That’s our job. But they do a good job with their manager and their catcher of controlling that. I saw Yadi talking to the closer [ Rosenthal] the other night when he threw a couple balls, and I saw Yadi saying don’t try to over-throw, I could read his lips: 'Stay within yourself, don’t try to over-throw, you’re throwing 100; 98’s just as good.'"
For his part, Wacha is just sticking to the game plan.
“You can’t worry about that kind of stuff,” he said. “You just got to get locked in with Yadi, and that’s going to be the plan. Just trying to think about it as another game. I know that’s going to be hard to do, being in the World Series. But you've just got to try to think about it as another game and go out there and just make pitches, make effective pitches.”
Carpenter has taken the young pitchers under his wing this season. He’s tried to tell them what they will be going through over the next few days, some of the outside distractions they’ll face -- the additional media requests, friends and family looking for tickets -- and how best to block them out.
It really comes down to just one thing, though.
“If you go out and execute,” Carpenter said, “no matter who you are and what your age is you’re going to get outs.”
Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox and MLB for CSN New England.