ST. LOUIS — A half-inning before, the St. Louis Cardinals narrowly managed to push home the go-ahead run after putting a runner on third with no outs. Rookie right-hander Michael Wacha would not let the Los Angeles Dodgers be so lucky when they came to bat in the top of the sixth Saturday afternoon.
Wacha got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe, snuffing out the Dodgers best chance to score in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals won 1-0 and lead the series 2-0 heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, victimized by a passed ball by catcher A.J. Ellis in the bottom of the fifth that helped set up the Cardinals to score, started a rally against Wacha by lining a single through the hole at short. Carl Crawford followed with a sharp grounder to Matt Carpenter, who dived and — for some reason — decided to try and force Kershaw at second base instead of making the much shorter throw to first. But his throw was wild for an error, allowing the runners to move up to second and third. Crawford was credited with a single.
Mark Ellis popped up for the first out and the Cardinals intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to load the bases. Wacha, who had pitched almost perfectly in his previous two starts, tried hitting a mental reset button and getting in sync with catcher Yadier Molina.
"I was just trying to get locked in with Yadier [Molina] back there," Wacha said. "We took some time between batters, a lot of mound visits, just to make sure we were on the same page.
"I haven't had to pitch out of too many jams."
Wacha and Puig staged an epic confrontation, with Puig guessing correctly enough to work the count full. But he swung pathetically at a 94 mph fastball low and inside for strike three.
"I didn't really have a single approach to Puig," Wacha said. "My approach all night was to just attack him with quality pitches, to throw the off speed in any count. That was just the approach to all of the hitters, really."
Puig has gone 0 for 10 with six strikeouts in the series. He credited the St. Louis pitchers, and blamed the strike zone of umpire Gerry Davis.
"There were a few pitches that were out of the zone, as well, that were called strikes," Puig said through a translator. "I was just giving it my best."
Uribe struck out, a little less dramatically, on four pitches, and Busch Stadium roared with approval as Wacha walked off the mound, pumping his fist.
"I was pretty pumped up there," said Wacha, who returned to get two more outs in the seventh before the bullpen finished for him.
Wacha allowed five hits and an intentional walk with eight strikeouts. Wacha, Wacha!
He also was the star in a key game during the previous playoff round, Game 4 of the NLDS against the Pirates. For a 22-year-old, he's already had some huge moments in the playoffs for the Cardinals, and he seems to relish them all. A.J. Ellis was impressed.
"You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Wacha and what he did out there," Ellis said. "His poise, in those situations, was pretty impressive for a guy who’s made  starts. A lot of credit to him."
Kershaw pitched brilliantly as well, allowing only two hits, a walk and an unearned run. He threw only 72 pitches, which would help him return on short rest in a hypothetical Game 5 — if the series goes that long. Zack Greinke might have to go in Game 4 on short rest as well.
The Dodgers were missing Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier, neither of whom was in the starting lineup because of injuries.
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