For much of the 2013 season, Clayton Kershaw was the foundation that held the Los Angeles Dodgers' pitching staff together. Unfortunately, Kershaw picked the worst possible time to start showing cracks.
The St. Louis Cardinals offense pounded Kershaw for seven runs and Michael Wacha turned in yet another stellar performance, as the Cardinals defeated the Dodgers, 9-0, to advance to their second World Series in three seasons.
St. Louis won the best-of-seven series 4-2, celebrating their triumph on the mound as rain fell onto the Busch Stadium field.
With ghosts of their collapse in the 2012 NLCS staring them in the face, the Cardinals returned Friday night on a mission. Los Angeles had staved off elimination on Wednesday, bringing the series to 3-2 with the likely NL Cy Young award winner taking the mound for them in Game 6.
But it was clear from the outset that Kershaw would not be repeating his excellent Game 2 outing. He made it through the first two innings scoreless, but had thrown two wild pitches and allowed a runner into scoring position in both frames.
By the time the third inning came around, the Cardinals were locked in. They tagged Kershaw for four runs in the third, batting around the order and hitting a succession of lined shots up the middle. Carlos Beltran hit an RBI single, Yadier Molina knocked him in two batters later and Shane Robinson concluded the wreckage with a two-RBI single to right with the bases loaded.
As noted by the Baseball Tonight Twitter feed, it was the first time in four years a team batted around on the 25-year-old ace:
Kershaw would right the ship in the fourth, but it'd be a temporary reprieve. The Cardinals again sent nine men to the plate in the fifth, adding on five runs to take a 9-0 lead. They started off with three successive hits by Molina, David Freese and Matt Adams, whose RBI double ran Kershaw out of the game for good.
He gave way to Ronald Belisario, but things only got worse before they got better. Belisario allowed two more runs to be credited to Kershaw's name and allowed two of his own in 0.1 innings of work before J.P. Howell came in to mop up the damage. By the end of the fifth, the Cardinals were ahead 9-0 and Kershaw had allowed more than two runs in a postseason outing for just the second time in his career.
That was more than enough room for Michael Wacha, who again had no problems with this vaunted Dodgers lineup. Carl Crawford began the game with an infield single for Los Angeles, but that would represent half of the club's offensive production. Wacha forced Mark Ellis to ground into a double play immediately after Crawford's at-bat, en route to retiring 14 of the next 15 Dodgers he faced.
Locating about two-thirds of his pitches for strikes, Wacha was in complete command of the mound. He went seven innings without giving up a run, striking out five and allowing only three baserunners—just one of which reached scoring position.
Wacha has now given up one run in his last 29.2 innings dating back to the regular season. He's given up two or fewer hits in three of his past four starts.
The Cardinals bullpen took over with the hefty cushion and finished the job. Carlos Martinez threw a 1-2-3 eighth and Trevor Rosenthal closed it out.
Kershaw wasn't the only Dodgers star who had a rough night. Outfielder Yasiel Puig, whose arrival coincided with Los Angeles' regular-season turnaround, struck out twice and committed two fielding errors. ESPN's Buster Olney suggested a creative way for Puig to relearn the fundamentals on defense:
The Cardinals will now have a somewhat extended break before facing off against the American League champion on Oct. 23. The Boston Red Sox currently hold a 3-2 lead over the Detroit Tigers as they head back to Fenway Park for Games 6 and 7.
Boston and St. Louis have met three times in the World Series, most recently when the Red Sox broke their 86-year title drought in 2004. The Cardinals and Tigers have also met three times, with St. Louis' 2006 triumph being the most recent.
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Carl Crawford LF||B-|
|Mark Ellis 2B||D|
|Adrian Gonzalez 1B||D|
|Hanley Ramirez SS||D|
|Andre Ethier CF||D|
|Yasiel Puig RF||F|
|Juan Uribe 3B||D|
|A.J. Ellis C||C-|
|Skip Schumaker PH||C-|
|Michael Young PH||C-|
|Clayton Kershaw SP||F|
|Ronald Belisario RP||F|
|J.P. Howell RP||B-|
|Chris Withrow RP||B-|
|Carlos Marmol RP||B|
|St. Louis Cardinals|
|Matt Carpenter 2B||B|
|Carlos Beltran RF||A-|
|Matt Holliday LF||D|
|Yadier Molina C||A|
|David Freese 3B||B+|
|Matt Adams 1B||B|
|Shane Robinson CF||A-|
|Pete Kozma SS||B-|
|Jon Jay Sub||B-|
|Kolten Wong PH||C-|
|Michael Wacha SP||A|
|Carlos Martinez RP||B|
|Trevor Rosenthal RP||B|
Player of the Game: Michael Wacha (SP, St. Louis Cardinals)
The Cardinals topping of Kershaw was one of the most impressive displays by a team in the entire 2013 season. The Cards bats came alive at the perfect time and took advantage of an ace who just wasn't all there on Friday night. But it's impossible to pick just one St. Louis hitter as being the most outstanding player. Every player not named Matt Holliday contributed in some way, shape or form.
That leaves Wacha, whose ascent is quickly soothing the wounds of those in the Gateway to the West still bitter about Albert Pujols' departure. (Wacha was the Cardinals' compensatory pick they received for losing Pujols to the Los Angeles Angels.)
For the third time in as many postseason starts, Wacha was better than anyone could have hoped. He shut down the Dodgers' high-priced lineup by locating his pitches well and getting an excellent game behind the plate from his battery mate Molina. In Wacha's short time in the bigs, he and Molina have obviously developed a strong rapport that's helped St. Louis through its postseason run.
Now, it's on to the next challenge. Many young pitchers have looked great under the LDS and LCS spotlight, only to wilt once a World Series ring is on the line. But based on what we've seen thus far, the AL victor is going to have an awfully tough time rattling Wacha.
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