The St. Louis Cardinals need one more just like that from the pressure-proof rookie to get to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Wacha outpitched NL Cy Young front-runner Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 and the Cardinals won 1-0 on an unearned run to take a 2-0 series lead. They're matched again in Game 6 Friday night, the precocious right-hander and the lefty who'd be at the top of anyone's list to work a must-win.
This time, the Cardinals lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2." I just expect Michael to go out and do what he's done, just like the rest of our guys," manager Mike Matheny said. " Stick with what you've done all along the way, and don't ignore and don't deny the excitement."
The Dodgers brought the series back to St. Louis by muscling up on offense, with Adrian Gonzalez hitting two of their four homers in a 6-4 Game 5 victory Wednesday.
Runs figure to be hard to come by in Game 6, although pitchers won't have shadows as an ally with a 7:37 p.m. CDT start. Game 2 had a late afternoon start with shadows creeping across Busch Stadium especially in the early innings and lights providing no real help, plus there was fatigue from the Cardinals' 13-inning win to open the series." I think you'll see both clubs get better at-bats just from the standpoint of vision," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Cardinals didn't work out either, taking a bit of a mental break." We've had a lot of these lately," Matheny said. " Going back and forth I can feel a little jet lag. The guys aren't going to forget how to hit, forget how to throw."
Kershaw is the major league ERA leader three years running and worked the Dodgers' division clincher against Atlanta on three days' rest. He gave up just two hits in six innings of Game 1 and was ready to go long before the Dodgers' bats came alive." I don't really think about the what-ifs," Kershaw said. " I always assumed I was going to pitch Game 6."
Kershaw has a career 1-2 postseason record despite an impressive 2.88 postseason ERA." All we have to do," Gonzalez said, " is score for him."
Wacha is 2-0 with a microscopic 0.64 ERA in the postseason, allowing just six hits in 14 innings with 17 strikeouts. Counting his last start of the regular season, when he was one out shy of a no-hitter, make it 3-0 with an 0.42 ERA.
Slim leads have been of no concern, with the Cardinals totaling five runs in those games." Just this whole postseason ride has been amazing," Wacha said. " Hopefully we can just keep it going."
He knows how tough the opposing pitcher is, but says that can't be factor." Kershaw's a tough pitcher, obviously, and you saw that in his last start," Wacha said. " But I try not to worry too much about who I'm facing." Just try to approach it like any other start and just worry about myself, really."
Both are hard throwers from Texas who got to the majors fast. Kershaw was 20 when he made his debut in 2008 and Wacha was 21 and hadn't been in the system a year when he opened with seven strong innings against the Royals in May." He obviously handles himself pretty well," Kershaw said. " I don't think nerves is going to be the issue for him."
The Dodgers are trying to become the 12th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The Cardinals squandered a 3-1 series last fall against the Giants.
Game 7 would be Saturday night, and another rematch. The Dodgers' Hyun-Jim Ryu worked seven innings of three-hit ball in Game 3 to outpitch Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright , who got no help from a shaky defense.
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|October 12, 2013||Hanley Ramirez||Day-to-Day||Sore ribs|
|September 29, 2013||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Swelling in left ankle bone|
|September 26, 2013||Jerry Hairston Jr.||Day-to-Day||Back|
|September 25, 2013||Andre Ethier||Day-to-Day||Sprained left ankle|
|September 19, 2013||Adrian Gonzalez||Day-to-Day||Quadriceps|
|September 02, 2013||Yasiel Puig||Day-to-Day||Left game - Right knee strain|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|October 14, 2013||David Freese||Day-to-Day||Right calf tightness|
|September 23, 2013||Matt Holliday||Day-to-Day||Stiff back|
|September 04, 2013||Allen Craig||Day-to-Day||Sprained left foot|
|August 22, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 22, 2013||Jake Westbrook||15-Day DL||Lower back strain|
|August 15, 2013||Tony Cruz||15-Day DL||Stress fracture, left forearm|
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- With the red-clad crowd roaring more loudly with every pitch, Matt Carpenter became more determined - to get a hit and help lead the St. Louis Cardinals back to the World Series.
On Clayton Kershaw 's 11th offering, Carpenter lined a doubled to right field. It turned out to be the start of something really big.
Carlos Beltran followed with another key hit in a four-run third inning that stunned the Dodgers ace, Michael Wacha was again magnificent on the mound and St. Louis advanced to its second World Series in three seasons by roughing up Los Angeles 9-0 in Game 6 of the NL championship series Friday night.
" I'm so happy right now. We did it as a team," Beltran said. " We fought hard, we worked hard all season long, and thank God we're here."
The 22-year-old Wacha was selected MVP of the NLCS after throwing 13 2-3 scoreless innings and beating Kershaw twice in the series. The first rookie to win the award since Livan Hernandez in 1997 for the Marlins pitched seven innings of two-hit ball Friday.
" We want to see it a few more times, a couple at least," manager Mike Matheny said.
With four runs in the third and five more in the fifth, the Cardinals quickly removed all the tension surrounding a team that squandered a 3-1 series lead in the NLCS last fall against San Francisco.
Game 1 of the World Series is Wednesday at the winner of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers . The Cardinals won their 19th NL pennant and will be trying for their third title since 2006, last winning in 2011.
The 36-year-old Beltran had three hits, drove in two runs and made a spectacular catch in right field as he advanced to the World Series for the first time in his 16-year career.
The glamorous Dodgers, with the second-highest payroll in baseball at $220 million, failed to reach the World Series for the first time since winning it all in 1988.
" Going through spring, the long season, and then it just comes to a crash," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. " So, it's disappointing for all of us."
After losing Game 5 in Los Angeles, the Cardinals turned to Wacha once again. The right-hander was even better in outpitching Kershaw for the second time this series.
It was 52 degrees at game time, a 23-degree drop from the Kershaw-Wacha matchup in Game 2 six days earlier, and Kershaw never warmed up.
The lefty wasn't in the mood to talk about a season in which he had a majors-best 1.83 ERA, either.
" If you don't win, what's the point?" Kershaw said. " It doesn't really matter. All this stuff."
The leading NL CY Young Award candidate was knocked out of a start for the first time this season without finishing the fifth.
" I think the first time we faced him he was very tough," Beltran said. " This time he was a little off, but that doesn't mean anything."
Perhaps showing the Cardinals weren't stressed by the possibility of a second straight postseason meltdown, Games 1 and 5 starter Joe Kelly had a post-national anthem staredown against Dodgers reserve outfielder Scott Van Slyke that was broken up by a fed-up home plate umpire Greg Gibson after several minutes.
Kelly blinked first all in good fun but, when it counted, St. Louis wouldn't budge.
" It was just something fun to start the game off," Van Slyke said. " I don't think I've ever talked to Joe."
Beltran followed Carpenter's gritty doubled with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead.
Mattingly thought Carpenter's grinding at-bat was the key.
" From there," Mattingly said, " it just seemed like the flood gates opened ... Took a lot out of him."
With two outs, Yadier Molina added an RBI single, Shane Robinson drove in two runs with a single in his first career postseason start after replacing slumping Jon Jay - and advanced to second base on Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig 's first of two errors in the Cardinals' big innings.
The Cuban defector, who stood in the outfield during the eighth inning with his arms crossed, also struck out twice and was booed heartily. Hanley Ramirez , a last-minute addition to the Dodgers' lineup, went 0 for 3 while playing with a broken rib.
Kershaw needed 48 pitches to get out of the third, the most pitches of his career. He took exception with one pitch in particular, complaining to plate umpire Greg Gibson after Matt Adams ' full-count walk loaded the bases.
The Dodgers bench also was vocal after the call on a pitch that may have been an inch or two low of the strike zone.
The Cardinals knocked Kershaw out in the five-run fifth.
Molina and David Freese led off with singles and Adams followed with a double to chase Kershaw. Wacha drove in a run with a fielder's choice grounder and Carpenter had a sacrifice fly. Beltran capped the inning with an RBI single - his 37th postseason RBI in 45 career games.
Wacha has a minuscule 0.43 ERA in three postseason starts, one of the gems coming in Game 4 of the division series to keep the Cardinals alive. In his last regular season start and the NL Central up for grabs, he no-hit the Nationals for 8 2-3 innings.
This time, the Dodgers didn't have much of a chance again Wacha.
Carl Crawford led off the game with an infield hit but was erased on Mark Elllis' double-play ball. A.J. Ellis doubled to start the sixth and didn't advance.
Beltran was the star of the Cardinals' 3-2, 13-inning Game 1 victory, driving in all three runs plus making a perfect throw to keep it tied in extra innings.
Kershaw was charged with seven runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings Friday. The lefty led the majors in ERA the last three years but has lost five straight starts against St. Louis.
None of his outings this year were shorter than five innings and the most runs he allowed was five, on two occasions. The four-run fourth was his worst inning since July 24, 2012, at St. Louis, when Kershaw yielded eight runs in 5 2-3 innings - six in the sixth.
" He's the best pitcher in baseball. He's a real tough at-bat," Carpenter said. He got ahead of me like he almost always does. I struck out my first at-bat. And honestly, when he got two strikes on me the second at-bat, my mindset immediately changed. I'm not striking out."
NOTES: Cardinals Hall of Fame SS Ozzie Smith threw the first pitch. ... Beltran has a .331 career postseason average. ... Ramirez batted .133 in the NLCS (2 for 15) with a pair of singles and one RBI.