Wacha, Cards grind out another win vs. Dodgers

Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Starting their aces in the first two games of the National League Championship Series was supposed to get the Los Angeles Dodgers no worse than a split and perhaps a sweep.
But the St. Louis Cardinals, despite managing just nine hits total and four runs, are heading for southern California with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series and their ace ready to go to work.
Rookie right-hander Michael Wacha outpitched Clayton Kershaw on Saturday in Game 2, working 6 2/3 shutout innings and getting dominant help from the bullpen in a 1-0 win at sold-out Busch Stadium.
It was quite an encore for the 22-year-old Wacha, who allowed just one hit over 7 1/3 innings Monday in a 2-1 victory at Pittsburgh in Game 4 of the NLDS. He scattered five hits, walked one and fanned eight in this one, leaving after Nick Punto's two-out single in the seventh to a standing ovation from the crowd of 46,872.
"Whatever he's doing, we don't want to change anything," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Wacha.
In his last 22 2/3 innings, dating back to Sept. 24, when he came within a two-out ninth inning infield single of no-hitting Washington, Wacha allowed just seven hits and one run with five walks and 26 strikeouts.
The last two of those strikeouts came when the Cardinals most needed them. In the top of the sixth, nursing the lead, Wacha ran into immediate trouble as Kershaw and Carl Crawford led off with singles.
Matt Carpenter's throwing error -- he tried to erase Kershaw at second and threw the ball into foul ground behind third base -- moved the runners up an extra base. After Mark Ellis popped out, Wacha intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez.
Facing Yasiel Puig with the bases loaded, Wacha ran the count full and then got Puig to sucker for a low fastball. Wacha then fanned Juan Uribe on a breaking ball off the plate, pumping his fist as he ran off the mound.
"I was just trying to get locked in with (catcher) Yadier (Molina) back there," Wacha said. "We took our time, had a lot of mound visits. I was pretty pumped up after we got out of it."
That was the biggest failure in a weekend full of them for the Los Angeles offense. They didn't manage a run after Uribe's two-run single in the third inning of Game 1 Friday night, going 1-for-16 with men in scoring position.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said his team merely has to turn the page before it faces St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright on Monday in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium.
"I can always be concerned, but each game changes," Mattingly said. "Obviously, we had a couple of chances. I give them some credit, and also we've just got to be able to execute with men on third."
Kershaw was a tough-luck loser, allowing just two hits and an unearned run over six innings while walking one and fanning five. The last hit was David Freese's leadoff double in the fifth.
A.J. Ellis' passed ball moved Freese to third and Jon Jay -- a pitch after fouling off a suicide squeeze bunt -- golfed a 1-2 curve off to medium left. Carl Crawford's weak throw home didn't come close to nailing Freese.
"I had another chance and I was trying to get the job done any way I could," Jay said. "I was happy that I got the (fly) ball out there."
Punto got to third in the seventh after reliever Kevin Siegrist unleashed consecutive wild pitches with pinch-hitter Michael Young at the plate, but Young flew out to right.
Los Angeles never got the tying run on base after that, its last five hitters striking out. That included Puig's fourth strikeout of the day and his sixth in two games to lead off the ninth against Trevor Rosenthal, who fanned the next two hitters for his second postseason save.
But as the series heads west, Mattingly is maintaining a veneer of optimism.
"If we get two key hits over the last two days, we win two," he said. "It didn't happen, so we're walking out of here down two. They're not exactly going out and throwing six or eight runs up on us."
NOTES: Matheny announced Saturday that RHP Lance Lynn, who pitched the last two innings and got the win in Game 1, will get the start Tuesday night in Game 4 opposite RHP Ricky Nolasco. Lynn threw six shutout innings May 24 in a 7-0 win at Dodger Stadium. ... Los Angeles SS Hanley Ramirez (ribs) was scratched less than an hour before the game and replaced by Punto. The Dodgers also didn't start CF Andre Ethier (ankle), who missed the NLDS, and replaced him with Skip Schumaker. Ethier fanned on three pitches to end the game. ... Game 1's 13-inning classic was the third longest in NLCS history, trailing only the 1986 Game 6 between the New York Mets and Houston (16 innings) and the 1999 Game 5 with the Mets and Atlanta (15).