ST. LOUIS – For four straight starts, Michael Wacha has been all but untouchable ... and appeared totally oblivious to the stakes.
The St. Louis Cardinals need one more just like that from the pressure-proof rookie to get to the World Series for the second time in 3 years.
Wacha outpitched NL Cy Young front-runner Clayton Kershaw in Game 2, and the Cardinals won 1-0 on an unearned run to take a 2-0 series lead. They’re matched again in Game 6 on Friday night, the precocious right-hander and the lefty who’d be at the top of anyone’s list to work a must-win.
This time, the Cardinals lead the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2.
“I just expect Michael to go out and do what he’s done, just like the rest of our guys,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Stick with what you’ve done all along the way, and don’t ignore and don’t deny the excitement.”
Runs figure to be hard to come by, although pitchers won’t have shadows as an ally with a 7:37 p.m. start. Game 2 had a late-afternoon start, with shadows creeping across Busch Stadium, especially in the early innings, and lights providing no real help. Plus, there was fatigue from the Cardinals’ 13-inning win to open the series.
“I think you’ll see both clubs get better at-bats, just from the standpoint of vision,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
Kershaw is the major-league ERA leader 3 years running, and worked the Dodgers’ division clincher against Atlanta on 3 days’ rest. He gave up just two hits in six innings of Game 1, and was ready to go long before the Dodgers’ bats came alive.
“I don’t really think about the what-ifs,” Kershaw said. “I always assumed I was going to pitch Game 6.”
Kershaw has a career 1-2 postseason record despite an impressive 2.88 postseason ERA.
“All we have to do,” Gonzalez said, “is score for him.”
Wacha is 2-0 with a microscopic 0.64 ERA in the postseason, allowing just six hits in 14 innings with 17 strikeouts. Counting his last start of the regular season, when he was one out shy of a no-hitter, make it 3-0 with an 0.42 ERA.
“Just this whole postseason ride has been amazing,” Wacha said. “Hopefully we can just keep it going.”
He knows how tough the opposing pitcher is, but says it can’t be factor.
“Kershaw’s a tough pitcher, obviously, and you saw that in his last start,” Wacha said. “But I try not to worry too much about who I’m facing.
“Just try to approach it like any other start and just worry about myself, really.”
Both are hard throwers from Texas who got to the majors fast. Kershaw was 20 when he made his debut in 2008, and Wacha was 21 and hadn’t been in the system a year when he opened with seven strong innings against the Royals in May.
“He obviously handles himself pretty well,” Kershaw said. “I don’t think nerves is going to be the issue for him.”