(BaseballStL) -- The Cardinals registered only two hits through five innings. The first, a leadoff triple by Matt Carpenter to start the game, went for naught. But St. Louis wouldn’t spoil the second opportunity on only their second hit, a leadoff double by David Freese, in the fifth.
Freese would advance to third base on a passed ball and would eventually score with one out on a sacrifice fly by Jon Jay to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead after five innings of a pitcher’s duel between Clayton Kershaw and Michael Wacha.
The lone run would be enough for the Cardinals to take a two-game series lead before the teams meet in Los Angeles for Game 3 Monday.
After a nearly five-hour long, 13-inning battle in Game 1, the Cardinals looked to carry momentum from their 3-2 extra inning win as the Dodgers sent their best weapon to the mound Saturday.
The Dodgers countered the Cardinals’ not-so-secret-weapon-anymore of rookie Wacha with Kershaw, who posted a 16-9 record with a 1.83 earned-run average in 33 regular season starts.
Kershaw followed his regular season success with two strong starts against the Braves in the NLDS. He allowed one earned run in 13 1/3 innings and started the Game 4 clincher before facing the Cardinals.
His cumulative success would look better if not for the Cardinals, who beat him in both starts made against St. Louis this regular season. Kershaw’s third would be the most important thus far for the Dodgers, especially with the absences of Hanley Ramirez (bruised ribs) and Andre Ethier out of the starting lineup.
Kershaw wouldn’t disappoint as the Cardinals knew runs would be at a premium.
“Any time you're going up against a guy like Kershaw, you don't really expect even the best offenses to score a lot of runs off him,” Wacha said. “So I tried not to pay too much attention to who was going for them. Just go out there and try to throw up zeros.”
Wacha, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning in each of his last two starts, allowed a one-out hit to Mark Ellis in the first inning. Ellis lined the ball near the left field corner, but was held to a single when Matt Holliday made a sliding stop and quick throw back into the infield. Wacha struck out Adrian Gonzalez on an 87-mph changeup for the second out. Ellis stole second base on a 1-2 count and one pitch before Wacha wrapped up the 24-pitch first inning with a strikeout of Yasiel Puig.
Kershaw pitched as well as you would expect a former Cy Young winner would pitch in a postseason game.
Matt Carpenter, who started the game 2-for-23 this postseason, smacked Kershaw’s first pitch of the game to the right center field gap for a leadoff triple. Game 1 hero Carlos Beltran hit Kershaw’s second pitch straight up for an infield pop out and the first out of the game. Kershaw struck out Holliday five pitches later and kept Carpenter at third base. In stepped Yadier Molina, who grounded out to shortstop and stranded Carpenter’s leadoff triple.
Kershaw dodged the Cardinals’ first bullet as the shadows began to creep over the mound.
Wacha sat down the Dodgers in order in the second with nine pitches. He threw a total of 33 through the first two innings.
After a 10-pitch first frame, Kershaw retired David Freese, Matt Adams and Jon Jay in order in the second inning. His pitch count through two innings was only at 19.
With the shadows beginning to swallow the entire mound in the third inning, Wacha retired the side for the second consecutive inning with 11 pitches.
The mound was completely engulfed by the afternoon shadows when the Cardinals’ turn to bat came up in the third inning, and as Kershaw retired his ninth consecutive batter to send the game quickly into the fourth.
The pitcher’s duel continued in the fourth as Wacha turned in his third consecutive perfect inning with his second strikeout of Puig in as many at-bats.
Kershaw’s streak of 12 consecutive batters retired ended in the fourth with a walk to Beltran. The leadoff walk would be erased when Holliday hit into a 6-4-3 double play, which was followed by a ground out by Molina.
Through four innings, Kershaw threw only 40 pitches compared to Wacha’s 62.
A two-out ground-rule double by A.J. Ellis in the fifth ended Wacha’s streak of 13 consecutive batters without reaching base. Ellis would be left stranded as Nick Punto looked at strike three on a full count to end the threat.
David Freese led off the fifth inning with a double to the left field corner for the Cardinals’ first hit since Carpenter’s triple to lead off the game. Freese advanced to third on a pass ball thrown by Kershaw in the at-bat against Matt Adams.
For the second time, the Cardinals had a runner on third and no outs in an inning.
Kershaw avoided the sticky situation in the first go-around. He wouldn’t for a second time.
After Adams struck out, Jay failed to lay down a suicide squeeze but was able to drive the ball deep enough to left field to score Freese from third and give St. Louis a 1-0 lead in the fifth. The run would be unearned for Kershaw.
It would be the eventual game-winning run.
“I obviously didn't execute that play, but I had another chance, and I was just trying to get the job done any way I could,” Jay said. “I was able to get something in the outfield so I was happy I was able to get that done.”
The Dodgers bounced right back with their best scoring opportunity in the sixth inning trailing by a run. Back-to-back singles by Kershaw and Crawford resulted in both runners in scoring position as Carpenter’s throwing error to second base for a force out sailed past Pete Kozma.
“At that point, Michael is throwing the ball so well, and an aggressive play defensively ended up putting him in a tough spot and taking our chances with a right-handed hitter,” Mike Matheny said. “It comes down to a young pitcher being put on the big stage in high leverage and making pitches.”
The situation left the rookie Wacha needing to pitch like a 10-year veteran with a world of postseason experience. But he entered Friday with only one postseason start.
And he did.
Now with one out in the sixth, Ellis popped out in the infield. The Cardinals then intentionally walked Gonzalez to load the bases and bring Puig, who had already struck out twice, to the plate as relievers Randy Choate and Seth Maness began to warm up in the bullpen.
Puig worked into a full count after falling 0-2, but Wacha struck him out for a third time and for out No. 2. Juan Uribe followed suit with a strike out as Wacha left the mound pumping his fist and the Cardinals still ahead 1-0.
“I got myself in a little jam there with the bases loaded and no outs and then one out there,” Wacha said. “I was just trying to get locked in with Yadier back there. We took some time in between batters, a lot of mound visits, just to make sure we were on the same page. I was pretty pumped up after I got a couple strikeouts there to end the inning and keep our team in the lead there.”
Wacha, who had thrown 100 pitches through six innings, was left in the game to leadoff and struck out to start the bottom portion of the sixth. Kershaw would get Carpenter and Beltran out to hold the Cardinals to the one-run lead through six innings of play.
Kershaw was at only 72 pitches thrown as the game went into the seventh inning.
As Kevin Siegrist began to warm in the bullpen, Wacha left to a standing ovation from the crowd of 46,872 fans after allowing a two-out single to Punto.
More importantly for St. Louis, he left with his club ahead 1-0 and 2 1/3 innings away from a 2-0 NLCS lead.
Wacha’s official line read: 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO (112 pitches/73 strikes)
As Wacha left so did Dodgers starter Kershaw who was due up next. Kershaw’s day was over after six innings and 72 pitches. But with a runner on first late in the game, Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly chose to enter Michael Young to pinch hit.
It nearly paid off.
Punto advanced to second and then third base on back-to-back wild pitches thrown by Siegrist to Young. A fly out to right field on a full count ended the Dodgers’ half of the seventh inning and kept the score 1-0 with both starters out of the game.
The Dodgers brought in reliever Ronald Belisario to retire the meat of the Cardinals’ lineup starting with Holliday in the bottom of the seventh.
The Cardinals chose to go with Choate for the favorable lefty-versus-lefty matchup to get Crawford to foul out to begin the eighth. Rookie flamethrower Carlos Martinez entered out of the St. Louis bullpen to strike out Ellis and Gonzalez.
After working two scoreless innings in Game 1 the night before, Trevor Rosenthal was called upon to secure a one-run lead in the ninth inning and give the Cardinals a two-game series lead before heading to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday.
Rosenthal struck out Puig looking, his fourth strikeout in as many at-bats, to begin the ninth. Uribe followed with a strikeout and then Rosenthal sealed it with a strikeout of pinch hitter Andre Ethier to end the game.
Rosenthal threw only two balls in his final 12 pitches thrown in the game.
“I was pretty locked in,” Rosenthal said. “But it was a lot of energy in the stadium at that time. I think just that game was electric from start to finish. How close of a game it was being a one-run game and how great the pitching was on both sides just trying to come in there and keep my composure.”
The Cardinals now travel to L.A. with a 2-0 series lead. The next game will be Monday.