The Dodgers’ biggest advantage in the series was thought to be the front end of their rotation, the one-two punch of Zack Greinke and Kershaw, a pair of former Cy Young winners who went a combined 31-13 this season. But on successive days, the Cardinals neutralized each of them by sending to the mound a pair of rookies, Joe Kelly and Wacha, who pitched as if they were their equals — and very well may be.
“He pitched better than I did, and they won,” Kershaw said of Wacha. “He was impressive.”
After a travel day Sunday, the series shifts to Dodger Stadium, where Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright will start against the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu on Monday night.
Jon Jay’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly off Kershaw stood up as the only run of the game, as the Cardinals’ bullpen — like their rotation, populated largely by rookies — carried home the slim lead. Closer Trevor Rosenthal, the hardest throwing of these youngsters, struck out the side in the ninth for the save, his last three pitches to pinch-hitter Andre Ethier clocking in at 98, 101 and 98 mph.
At the start of the 2012 season, around the time the Cardinals were raising the World Series title banner at Busch Stadium, Wacha was still pitching for Texas A&M University. When the Cardinals opened their 2013 season, he was down the road at Class AAA Memphis. Saturday marked only the 11th major league start of his career, the Cardinals wisely saving some of his innings for October.
Facing an injury-depleted Dodgers starting lineup that was without three of its top run-producers — Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Ethier — Wacha delivered 62
3 scoreless innings, striking out eight. This comes on the heels of two near no-hitters — one against Washington in his regular-season finale, the other against Pittsburgh in the NL Division Series. In 14 innings this postseason, he has allowed six hits, three walks and one run while striking out 17.
He is already a star. He seems destined for something greater.
“Incredible,” Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran said of Wacha’s performance.
Wacha faced only one significant threat, that coming in the sixth, when a pair of singles and a throwing error by second baseman Matt Carpenter put runners on second and third with no outs. But after Wacha got Mark Ellis to pop up for the first out, the Cardinals walked Adrian Gonzalez intentionally, and Wacha struck out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe to end the inning.