"You could go back and look at pitches over and over again and second guess yourself," Morton said. "I don't know where that pitch was. It was outer third somewhere, thigh-down and he went out and got it, he's strong."
So was the 6-foot-6 kid on the one, the one barely a year removed from a standout college career at Texas A&M. Wacha didn't permit a runner until walking Russell Martin leading off the sixth.
Wacha nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals in his last start on Sept. 24, surrendering only an infield single by Ryan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth.
Working so quickly the Pirates never had time to get settled, he breezed through Pittsburgh's revamped lineup like he was in extended spring training. Mixing his fastball and changeup masterfully, Wacha overwhelmed the Pirates from the moment he stepped onto the mound.
Alvarez got the fans at PNC Park roaring with his homer, and Wacha followed by walking Martin on four pitches. Carlos Martinez relieved and Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina made a key play, throwing out pinch-runner Josh Harrison after a botched hit-and-run attempt.
Martinez struck out Jose Tabata to end the eighth, and Rosenthal took over to begin the ninth. Neil Walker drew a two-out walk before McCutchen made the final out.
"That's what it's all about," Rosenthal said. "That's what you dream of, you dream of two outs in the bottom of the ninth, you know ... bases loaded, the best hitter up, and getting out of that spot."
One the Cardinals rarely found themselves in on a day Wacha showed he's just a big a part of his team's present as he is its megawatt future.
McCutchen came into the game hitting .538 in the postseason but looked at a 97 mph fastball for strike three in the first. Marlon Byrd, Pittsburgh's most consistent player since being acquired from the Mets in late August, watched a full-count heater in the second that sent him walking back to the dugout in disbelief.
It was a look repeated time and again by Byrd and the rest of his baffled teammates. Wacha struck out five of the first seven batters.
"He went out and hit his spots and it seemed like everything we were hitting, we were just missing, just missing," McCutchen said.
Martin remained Pittsburgh's lone baserunner until the eighth. Wacha fell behind 3-1 and Alvarez hit a 93 mph fastball at the knees onto the concourse in right-center.
The jolt, however, faded when Molina nailed Harrison at second minutes later to set up a 24th -- and final -- meeting between two teams that have been shadowing each other all summer and into the fall.