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Rookie shows his fast learning curve against Dodgers

Cardinals starter Michael Wacha continues his amazing run by besting Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. Nearly as impressive, the pitching duel leads to a playoff game that finishes in less than three hours.

October 12, 2013|By Joe Strauss

Columnists and reporters from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch will be sharing their views with Times readers during the National League Championship Series.

ST. LOUIS — Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly accorded Michael Wacha the supreme postseason compliment early in Saturday's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium. Turning to bench coach Trey Hillman, Mattingly accurately predicted, "It's going to be a fast game."

Playoff baseball is typically a four-hour stage production.

Pitchers perform arias. Hitters give elaborate at-bats complicated by preening between pitches.

Wacha and Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw pushed the game into the sixth inning in less than 90 minutes. That's the postseason equivalent of "The William Tell Overture."

Wacha, who technically outlasted the Dodgers ace by two outs even though they exited the game at the same time, put a 112-pitch performance on speed dial in a game the Cardinals won, 1-0, in 2 hours, 40 minutes.

Any pitcher who condenses time in October has to be dominant.

Any starting pitcher who can bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the Dodgers lineup opposite arguably the game's most effective pitcher deserves whatever superlatives come his way.

"It was two guys out there attacking hitters, saying, 'Here's my best stuff and see what you can do with it and we'll see who wins,'" Adam Wainwright said. "That's what great pitchers do."

At one point Saturday, Wacha and Kershaw teamed to retire 17 consecutive hitters. Kershaw got 18 outs on 72 pitches. Wacha mixed eight strikeouts among his 20 outs. His only walk was intentional.

The Cardinals ride a crest of remarkable pitching at the most fortuitous time.

It's unconventional for a team to win the first two games of a playoff series while scoring four runs and hitting .134 through 22 innings.

It's not exactly the norm for four rookie arms to work 26 of 27 outs while taking down the league's presumptive Cy Young Award winner.

The Cardinals were hitless Saturday in four at-bats with runners in scoring position. However, the Dodgers are one for 16 in such situations for the series.

Conventional wisdom held that the Cardinals' goal was to split the series' first two games at home against Zack Greinke and Kershaw. They've instead parlayed four runs into two wins with Wainwright set to start Game 3.

"We look at what they've been able to do, but we've been pretty good too," Mattingly said. "If we get two key hits over the last two days we win two. It didn't happen so we're walking out of here down two."

This is not happenstance with Wacha. He came within inches of throwing a no-hitter in his final regular-season start and within five outs of another against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 4 of the division series.

The Dodgers ended any such no-hit suspense Saturday with a one-out, first-inning single. What the NL West champions couldn't do was inflict real damage against Wacha or the four relievers who came on to secure the final seven outs.

If the Dodgers could enjoy Fernandomania in 1981, the Cardinals are entitled to Wachamania this year.

To be fair, Saturday afternoon was not exactly made for hitters. The game began in deep shadows that didn't ease until the seventh inning. Lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, Kershaw became the first pitcher in postseason history to lose when allowing two hits or fewer without an earned run.

2/3 innings. When the Dodgers loaded the bases against him with none out in Saturday's sixth inning it marked the first time in his last three starts Wacha had confronted a runner in scoring position with less than two outs.

Less than 24 hours after many speculated the Cardinals could only win an extended series, Wacha dressed after giving his team tremendous leverage over the betting-line favorite to win the World Series. Time flies when you're getting it done.

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