Crooked number in third inning against Kershaw sets tone in NLCS clincher
ST. LOUIS -- It took until the third inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, but the Cardinals finally looked like themselves at the plate.
These were the Cards that we were used to seeing: Hitters working deep counts, coming up with two-strike hits, a relentless, grinding attack that finally broke the will, if not the spirit, of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in a 9-0 victory on Friday night.
"To watch this unfold, that was a tough matchup any way you look at it," St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said. "And to see those guys grind it out like that was spectacular."
The Cardinals had a chance to wrap up this NLCS on Wednesday in Los Angeles, but whereas on that night they wasted early scoring opportunities and lost, 6-4, Friday night was vintage Cards as they booked a trip to the Fall Classic.
The third inning started off innocently enough, with pitcher Michael Wacha grounding out easily to third base. Matt Carpenter, though, set the tone with an 11-pitch at-bat that included eight foul balls. Finally, with the count still 2-2, he ripped a double to right.
"He put a good at-bat on me," Kershaw said. "You tip your cap."
For Carpenter, it was a moment he will not soon forget.
"That was a special at-bat," Carpenter said. "For me, it was probably one of the best at-bats I've had in my career, given the circumstances and the guy it was against. Fouling off those pitches, and then the crowd got into it, it was a cool thing. Then I got the pitch I could hit and was on second base, and then Carlos [Beltran] drove me in and we ended up having a big inning."
Carlos Beltran then singled on a 2-1 pitch to score Carpenter, and after Matt Holliday fanned on three pitches, Yadier Molina stepped to the plate. Molina was 3-for-18 with zero RBIs to that point in the series, and he bounced into a pair of rally-killing double plays to end the first and third innings of the Game 5 loss.
On this night, the hitter who batted .373 with runners in scoring position during the regular season drilled a 2-2 pitch to center for an RBI single.
"He [Molina] was my pick to click," Mozeliak said. "I just felt like he does so many things and has carried us in so many ways. I think his offense is so underrated, and you look at his contribution. It's amazing."
The hit parade continued with David Freese's single to center, and then Matt Adams, who had fanned nine times in his previous 20 at-bats during the series, fought back from a 1-2 count to draw a six-pitch walk.
Kershaw thought he had Adams struck out on a pitch that home-plate umpire Greg Gibson called a ball instead.
"There's no point in talking about it now," Kershaw said after the game. "It's over with."
Shane Robinson, who got the start in center field over the slumping Jon Jay, then capped the inning by hitting an 0-1 pitch for a two-run single to right.
"Shane's never been accused of being a big [guy], has he?" Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said of the 5-foot-9 outfielder. "But I'll tell you what. He's a big-time player. We needed him to step up for us, and he did it in a big way."
The Cardinals, who led the NL in two-out RBIs during the regular season with 287, scored four runs in the inning, three of which came around with two outs.
It was an outstanding inning, for sure, but the fact that it came against Kershaw made it even more impressive. Going into that inning, batters were 2-for-30 with runners in scoring position against Kershaw during the postseason.
And over his previous five starts, Kershaw had allowed a total of one earned run.
"Fitting that Matt Carpenter's kind of the guy that gets that going," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "To me, that's kind of where the game changed, is when Matt had the opportunity to get up there and fight off some real tough pitches from a very tough pitcher.
"Then you give our offense an opportunity to hit with runners in scoring position, and Carlos Beltran to do what he's done so many times, and then we got some momentum going. Our fans were into this. When that inning started happening, it just kicked into another level, and you could see the energy in our dugout just kind of buying into it."