ST. LOUIS -- This was supposed to be advantage Dodgers, with their MLB-best rotation ERA and an ideal sequence of backing one former Cy Young Award winner, Zack Greinke, up against another, Clayton Kershaw, who is poised to add to his hardware collection next month
But the Cardinals willingly countered with their kids, pitchers seemingly unaware of the enormity of the stage on which they've been shining. After stealing a walk-off win on Friday in 13 innings in Game 1, the Cards used rookies to secure 26 of the necessary 27 outs in a 1-0 win in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.
Michael Wacha, having already helped St. Louis stave off elimination in the National League Division Series, recorded the majority of those outs en route to pitching the Cardinals to a 2-0 advantage in the NL Championship Series. With Jon Jay's sacrifice fly as his only support, Wacha silenced the Dodgers' offense for 6 2/3 innings while outdueling arguably the game's top pitcher.
And so after playing in front of 46,872 at Busch Stadium, the Cards boarded a California-bound flight on the high of their second straight one-run win.
"It shows maturity," Chris Carpenter said after watching Joe Kelly and now Wacha hold their own against two of baseball's elite. "Some guys could come into those situations and think, 'Oh no, I have to face Greinke and Kershaw. We have no shot.' But instead, they rose to the occasion, went out and did the things that they needed to do to give us a chance to win."
With the Cardinals' pair of home wins, that starting pitching edge the Dodgers supposedly enjoyed had been wiped out in a 24-hour span. Oh, and the Cards now have their ace, Adam Wainwright, poised to take the mound as the series shifts to L.A. for Game 3 on Monday night (7 CT on TBS).
"We don't get too far ahead of ourselves," manager Mike Matheny said. "We don't deny also what's happened here the last two days. Those were two very good wins, two very tough wins when you face starters like that. ... It came down to Michael being pretty good."
On a day when the Redbirds mustered a mere two hits, they needed Wacha to follow up his pair of near no-hitters with an outing just as dominant.
The Dodgers wouldn't be held hitless -- it took only 12 pitches for Los Angeles to tally its first hit -- but converting those hits into any tangible result remained as elusive for L.A. as it had for Wacha's previous two opponents.
"From our standpoint, we're kind of in awe with what all these guys are doing, to be honest with you," said Wainwright. "Mikey's 22 years old. Last year, he was playing at Texas A&M. Last year. I mean, what in the world? He's just ... it's amazing."
Wacha burst onto the national scene in Pittsburgh last week and continued his spectacular run with this 112-pitch outing Saturday. None of those pitches was bigger than No. 100, an 89-mph fastball that Juan Uribe swung through to end the sixth inning. Just before Uribe, Yasiel Puig had gone down swinging on a full-count fastball.
The consecutive strikeouts stranded three on base for Los Angeles, which was attempting to capitalize on a throwing error by second baseman Matt Carpenter. Matheny opted to intentionally walk Adrian Gonzalez to fill the bases for Puig, who had already struck out twice against Wacha.
Catcher Yadier Molina made multiple mound visits during the Uribe and Puig at-bats, ensuring that Wacha tempered his emotions and that they agreed on pitch selection. Both gave emphatic fist pumps after securing that third out.
"I was just trying to get locked in with Yadier back there," Wacha said. "I was pretty pumped up after I got a couple strikeouts there to end the inning and keep our team in the lead there."
"The way this kid has gone about it has been ... it's really hard to describe," Matheny added. "I don't want to keep describing it, because I'd like to watch it happen a few more times."
The Dodgers, after going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 1, went hitless in six such chances on Saturday. That included an opportunity in the seventh, when after two wild pitches, reliever Kevin Siegrist stranded a runner he inherited from Wacha at third base.
"We just can't get the run in," said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis. "I think you've got to give a lot of credit to their guys, but at the same time, we maybe need to simplify things a little more. We're all really aggressive, and we all want to be the guy when we get in those situations. I think at times it can be a detriment."
Wacha allowed five hits, bringing his three-game total to seven in 22 2/3 innings. During that stretch, Wacha has allowed one run, walked five and struck out 26. This from a kid who was pitching in the Big 12 Conference last year until the Cardinals took him with their first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
It was a selection procured as a result of the exit of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols after the 2011 season.
"The ceiling is as high as he wants to go," Chris Carpenter said. "I think Michael has the opportunity to be fantastic and have an amazing career."
The Cardinals created only two threats against Kershaw, who twice lost to St. Louis during the regular season. He allowed a leadoff triple to Matt Carpenter in the first, but never let him budge. The Cards -- with a double by David Freese and a passed ball -- put another runner at third with no outs in the fifth.
Kershaw answered with a strikeout of Matt Adams and got ahead, 1-2, on Jay after the center fielder couldn't execute on a suicide-squeeze attempt. But after an 0-for-5 night on Friday, Jay managed to lift Kershaw's next pitch deep enough into left field to score Freese from third.
"You're not going to get a lot of chances against the best pitcher in the league," Freese said. "Even though you lead off with a double, it doesn't give you a good chance of scoring off a guy like that. We were fortunate that Jon Jay ... battled back and hit a tough pitch."
The unearned run was all the Cardinals would need, making this just the seventh game in postseason history in which the only run scored was unearned. It was the third postseason game -- and first since 1987 -- in which a sacrifice fly accounted for all the scoring.
The Cards' bullpen -- which contributed seven scoreless innings of relief in Game 1 and has not been scored upon since Game 3 of the NLDS -- preserved that miniscule margin by backing Wacha with 2 1/3 shutout frames. Veteran Randy Choate got one of those outs. A parade of rookies -- Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal -- took care of the rest.
The final five Dodgers hitters each struck out.
"As a team, we feel good to win the first two games against very tough pitchers," Carlos Beltran said. "You never know what can happen in this game. Right now we're playing good, and right now we're enjoying the moment we're living. When we get to L.A., we have to continue to find a way to win."