ST. LOUIS -- Tuesday wasn't the first time a no-hitter just narrowly slipped through right-hander Michael Wacha's hands.
Last March, Wacha carried a perfect game into the eighth inning for Texas A&M against Pepperdine. He retired his first 21 batters before an error after a dropped third strike allowed the first runner to reach base. Wacha lost his no-hitter on the next at-bat as an infield single bounced off his glove.
The 22-year-old rookie said the didn't get much sleep Tuesday night, still riding the high and fielding texts and phone calls hours after his near no-hitter.
"It was just an incredible night. Just thinking about it, it was just unbelievable," Wacha said. "Just the plays guys were making behind me and you know, the stuff that I had and the way [catcher Yadier Molina] was working back there. It was just unbelievable."
One thing he was trying not to think about, however, was what would have happened had he not instinctively tipped, and slowed, Ryan Zimmerman's sharp ground ball.
"It was perfectly placed," Wacha said. "I guess it was just meant to be."
Wacha may have been the odd man out of the postseason rotation, but on Tuesday, he certainly pitched himself at least into the conversation. Though it was Wacha's last scheduled start, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't rule out the rookie making another in October.
"We continue to have these young players thrown into these big situations, and they continue to show us that they're for real," Matheny said. "Not that we doubted Michael or any of the others, but you put them in tough situations, and I've seen guys a lot of the time not respond like you saw him respond [Tuesday]. I think it just says a lot about him, and that gives us a reason to be encouraged and excited."
Being just over a year removed from pitching collegiately, Wacha's workload has been closely monitored this season. Matheny said he was comfortable allowing Wacha's pitch count to reach a career-high 112 pitches Tuesday. Wacha has tossed 64 2/3 innings in the big leagues this season and 85 with Triple-A Memphis.
"We were on a balancing act the whole time -- is he going to get enough work and then is it too much?" Matheny said. "It was push and pull all at the same time, which it has been for all of our young guys, but we're happy with where he is right now."
Rotation order awaiting playoff positioning
ST. LOUIS -- With the Cardinals' postseason positioning up in the air, so too is their starting rotation.
Lance Lynn is slated to open the final series of the regular season Friday against the Cubs, then the next two days remain a fluid situation. Joe Kelly would be on turn to start Saturday, but with Thursday's off-day, Adam Wainwright also would be available on regular rest.
If the Cardinals wanted to start Wainwright in game one of a potential National League Division Series, he could not start Sunday's season finale. If they wanted him for the one-game Wild Card next Tuesday, he would have to skip his last regular-season start entirely.
"We just got to see how it plays," manager Mike Matheny said. "I know those are all legitimate questions and legitimate situations. But right now we're going to play today. I want the guys preparing to stay on time for their starts. I don't want them thinking about what the possibility is if X, Y or Z happens. We got to play today, win today, and then tomorrow we'll address other things. It's not time to go anywhere else yet."
Matheny said he has a vague picture of what each scenario could look like, but is won't allow his mind to wander that far ahead.
"[If] I start going there, I start opening the door for those guys to go there. And when they start going there, bad things are set to happen," Matheny said. "We've got plenty of time to figure that stuff out."
Holliday returns to lineup from back tightness
ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday returned to the Cardinals' lineup Wednesday after back tightness kept him out the previous three days. Holliday was a late scratch Sunday and Monday with the issue, which has recurred throughout his career.
"[We] just put him through the normal tests, and what's been grabbing him has freed up a little bit," manager Mike Matheny said. "He felt pretty good today. I know he wants to be in there and help us make a push here, so I'm happy to have him back in the lineup."
The left fielder is a welcome boost. He was batting .500 (13-for-26) with seven RBIs and a home run in his last six games. Matheny said the team will keep an eye on his back moving forward.
"We want to make sure that it's moving in the right direction," Matheny said. "Having an off-day [Thursday] will give it another chance to rest. It's time we got to push and he feels good enough to go."
Westbrook hoping to contribute in relief role
ST. LOUIS -- Veteran Jake Westbrook, once a cog in the Cardinals' rotation, has spent most of September trying to keep his arm strong for when he is called upon next. The question, though, is if he'll even get another chance.
Westbrook has not been in the rotation mix since returning from the disabled list on Sept. 6. He pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief that night but has not appeared in a game since. He has been throwing daily on flat ground, but has been hesitant to do much work off the mound in case he is needed later in the day for a multiple-innings appearance.
Seemingly being held back for a long-relief situation, Westbrook is watching his season close with no defined role on this club.
"It's been tough, but I'm trying to stay as sharp as I can," Westbrook said. "I warmed up pretty extensively in that Colorado game [on Sept. 19] and was throwing really well. I'm confident that if I do get a chance, I'm definitely going to be ready."
Westbrook, who is making $8.75 million this season, has a mutual option worth $9.5 million for next season. He said that he has had no discussions yet with the Cardinals about his future and doesn't expect to until the offseason. But with the amount of young pitching talent on the rise, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would have a place for Westbrook in their 2014 rotation.
Before that, though, will come the decision about Westbrook's place -- and if he has one -- on the team's postseason roster.
"I just hope that I fit in," Westbrook said. "That's where I am right now."
• Allen Craig (left foot sprain) is scheduled to have his injured foot re-examined on Thursday, after which the Cardinals will determine the next step in Craig's rehab process. That exam is expected to include X-rays.
• The Cubs are scheduled to start the following pitchers in their weekend series at Busch Stadium: Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98 ERA) on Friday, Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74 ERA) on Saturday and Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.33 ERA) on Sunday.
• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first season since 1990 that three pitchers have had a no-hitter broken up after 8 2/3 innings. Before Michael Wacha lost his no-hit bit on an infield single Tuesday, Yu Darvish (April 2) and Yusmeiro Petit (Sept. 6) had it happen to them.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.