Red Sox RHP Michael Wacha refutes claim that he intentionally walked Yankees star Aaron Judge to avoid giving up record-tying home run
Despite what the pronunciation of his surname might suggest, Michael Wacha is loath to issue walks.
In 120 innings of work this year, the Boston Red Sox righty has only allowed 30 free passes over 165 2/3 innings, making him one of the most careful pitchers on the staff. By comparison, Rich Hill, who starts Friday’s game has issued 33 walks, and Nick Pivetta, who will start Saturday night, leads the pitching staff with 63 walks this season. Jake Diekman, the struggling reliever whom the Sox dealt at the trade deadline, has also walked 30 men this season, but in only 38 1/3 innings.
Wacha’s 2.3 BB/9 is the third-lowest mark of his decade-long career, and his 6.3 walk percentage is significantly lower than the 8.2% league average. On the Sox roster, only Ryan Brasier, Garrett Whitlock, and Nathan Eovaldi have lower walk percentages this season.
But New York Yankees fans in the Bronx aren’t necessarily looking up that information before they head to the House That Replaced The House That Ruth Built. So when Wacha faced Aaron Judge on Thursday night and issued a leadoff walk to him to start the game, the stands erupted in booing.
Judge, of course, is one home run away from tying the American League single-season home-run record held by fellow Yankee, Roger Maris. His 61st home run of the 1961 season broke the record Babe Ruth set in 1927.
Understandably, every pitcher who faces Judge is keenly aware that with every pitch, they could be cementing themselves in the history books, and it’s understandable that Wacha wouldn’t want to forever be associated with giving up the record-tying blast. But in his postgame media availability, he attempted to set the record straight:
"“I hate walks. I was nails warming up in the bullpen, and when I got to the mound it was a struggle. It was a crazy environment out there for sure, but I didn’t want to walk him.”"
Whether Yankees fans will believe him or not is somewhat irrelevant. For one thing, they’re Boston’s biggest rivals, so a Red Sox pitcher shouldn’t be trying to appease or cater to them. But more importantly, Wacha’s career numbers against Judge are the most resounding evidence to support the claim that he didn’t shy away from facing him. Entering Thursday’s game, Wacha had never allowed a hit to Judge; over 14 at-bats, he’d walked him once and struck him out nine times. He added a second walk and a tenth strikeout to his career numbers against Judge before departing the game.
It wasn’t his best outing, but Wacha certainly didn’t look like he was hiding from Judge as much as he was simply struggling to command his pitches. He also walked two other batters, neither of whom are trying to tie Roger Maris for the American League single-season home-run record.
Michael Wacha’s performance vs Aaron Judge evokes 2013 World Series vs David Ortiz
Red Sox fans will recall that there was a time when Wacha did avoid pitching to a formidable hitter. As a 21-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals, he had the unfortunate task of facing David Ortiz in Game 6 of the 2013 World Series. Ortiz came into the clinching game hitting .360/.476/.720 with 18 hits (including three doubles and five homers) over the first 15 games of their improbably postseason run, and an eye-popping .733/.750/1.267 (yes, that was his slugging percentage, not his OPS) over the first five games of the World Series. He’d already doubled and homered twice – including a homer off Wacha in Game 2 – and hadn’t struck out once.
By Game 6, the Cardinals gave up. Wacha intentionally walked him twice, and Trevor Rosenthal added a third. Ortiz added a fourth walk, the first unintentional one of his night. For the Cardinals, it seemed the lesser of two ways to go out, though the pitching staff was lambasted for being too cowardly to face Ortiz in a series that they couldn’t win. Putting Ortiz on the bases didn’t pay off, either, as he scored two runs that night to help the Sox clinch their first World Series at Fenway Park in 95 years.
Perhaps Wacha wanted to erase that legacy on Thursday night by facing Judge. Either way, he won’t be remembered as the pitcher who serves up Judge’s record-tying blast.