After Game 1 of the NLCS lasted 13 innings and nearly five hours, both Clayton Kershaw and Michael Wacha seemed intent on ending Game 2 in hasty fashion.
It was the 22-year-old rookie Wacha who outdueled the soon-to-be two-time Cy Young winner, though, as the St. Louis Cardinals knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 at Busch Stadium to take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Michael Wacha hates giving up runs. The Cardinals love playing at home. The Birds take a 2-0 lead in the NLCS.— ESPN (@espn) October 12, 2013
Wacha, who gave up just one hit in each of his last two starts, was rather pedestrian by his standards on Saturday, lasting 6.2 shutout innings while giving up five hits and one walk and striking out eight.
Another strong performance put him into decent company, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
Michael Wacha is 2nd Cardinals pitcher with back-to-back postseason games of 8+ K & 1 run or fewer allowed. Other? Bob Gibson in 1968 WS— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2013
Kershaw, as he has been all season, was nearly unhittable. He gave up just two hits and one walk through six efficient innings, but the Cardinals got to him for the all-important run in the fifth inning.
After David Freese doubled and advanced to third on a passed ball to start the inning, Jon Jay went down to get a low pitch and hit it just far enough for the sacrifice fly:
In what was a tremendous pitcher's duel between arguably the two hottest pitchers in baseball, it was an appropriate way for the only run to cross the plate.
Wacha, after allowing just two baserunners to reach second base through the first five innings, finally ran into trouble in the sixth.
The Dodgers were able to load the bases after a pair of singles and an intentional walk issued to Adrian Gonzalez, but Wacha hunkered down and struck out both Yasiel Puig and the red-hot Juan Uribe to get out of the jam. Needless to say, he was a little fired up:
Wacha got two quick outs to start the seventh but was replaced by Kevin Siegrist after allowing a single. Siegrist made things interesting with two wild pitches to move Nick Punto to third, but he eventually got Michael Young to fly out to end the inning.
Randy Choate, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal combined to retire the Dodgers in order in the eight and ninth innings, completing the impressive shutout victory.
Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis had this to say after the game:
"If they beat our aces, we're just going to have to beat theirs." -@AJEllis17— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) October 12, 2013
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: A
Kershaw may have the "L" placed next to his name in the box score, but there's no logical way you can place the blame on him for the defeat.
He simply did what he has done all season: overwhelm hitters. He allowed just three baserunners through six innings, and if not for the passed ball by Ellis, this game is very likely still locked at zero.
Moreover, while Kershaw was "only" able to strike out five, he used just 72 pitches before being pulled for a pinch-hitter, meaning he could be available for a couple innings of work if things get dicey for the Dodgers in the coming days.
Michael Wacha, Cardinals: A
Well, I suppose he was bound to regress toward the mean at some point. Of course, at this point, the mean for Wacha is five hits, eight strikeouts and beating the best pitcher in the world.
I mean, he was so good (again) that even MLB's official Twitter feed got a little intense:
Michael Wacha will destroy your soul. Wow.— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2013
Yep. It was a soul-destroying performance.
A.J. Ellis, Dodgers: C
Ellis was one of the few players capable of doing much of anything at the plate, as he hit a ground-rule double and hit the ball hard the other two times at the plate. As such, it's hard to lower his grade much more than this.
Still, it's hard to get over the fact that his passed ball was the difference in the game. You can't make mistakes like that in October.
David Freese, Cardinals: B+
Freese entered Saturday's contest hitting just 3-for-21 with one extra-base hit this postseason, so it's hard to imagine his confidence was too high.
While he didn't break out of his slump in a gargantuan way (1-for-3), he proved to be key in the Cards' win, getting a double off Kershaw and hustling home to score the game's only run.
We will shift back to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday at 8:07 p.m. ET. The Dodgers will try to narrow the series gap with Hyun-Jin Ryu, but it won't be easy with Adam Wainwright taking the hill for the Cards.