Wacha, Rookie Relievers And Thankfully A Passed Ball

While Michael Wacha didn’t come close to a no-hitter during Saturday’s Game Two of the NLCS, there were no complaints. Instead, it was just continued awe — of him as well as rookie relievers Kevin Siegrist, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal.

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Photos: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The quartet (plus Randy Choate, who tripled his production to three pitches in Game Two) shut down the Dodgers in a no-room-for-error 1-0 Cardinals win, as the Cardinals managed to score with their only hits of the day being a first inning triple and fifth inning double.

It was the first 1-0 Cardinals postseason victory since that guy hugging Wacha in the picture at left beat the Phillies in Game Five of the 2011 NLDS.

Pitching really was the story of the game, as it has been whenever Wacha starts. And while he gave up five hits, scattered through four innings, he struck out eight — none bigger than the last.

The sixth was the only inning in which Wacha allowed multiple base runners. A lead-off single by Clayton Kershaw was followed by a grounder by Carl Crawford deep between first and second that Matt Carpenter dove to retrieve. He threw to second base, though not well — the ball got past Pete Kozma and allowed Kershaw to move up to third as Crawford ended up at second on what was ruled a single and error. Two on, no out, the heart of the Dodgers order coming up … Tension? Intensity? Of course — it’s October!

Mark Ellis popped up to Carpenter. One down …

Wacha then allowed his only walk of the game, though it was an intentional one to Adrian Gonzalez to load the bases with Yasiel Puig coming up. He swung so hard at the first pitch, a 95 mph fastball, that he ended up on one knee. Second pitch, also 95, was called strike two. After a 96 mph fastball was outside, Wacha delivered two more fastballs inside — it would have to go to a full count for maximum drama, right? The sixth pitch was 94 and a little low, but Puig swung and missed.

Which brought up Juan Uribe — you know, the guy who hit a go-ahead two-run homer in Game Four of the division series against the Braves to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead — and he faced nothing but fastballs as well … with the end result being the same as with Puig, only with a little extra reaction from Wacha. And rightfully so.

Wacha retired Skip Schumaker and A.J. Ellis in the seventh before allowing a single to Nick Punto, then left to a terrific ovation. Kevin Siegrist retired pinch-hitter Michael Young.

Randy Choate did his work to retire Crawford to start the eighth, and then Martinez and Rosenthal took over. Martinez struck out Mark Ellis and Adrian Gonzalez. Rosenthal struck out Puig (who K’d in all four of his at-bats), Uribe and pinch-hitter Andre Ethier to end it. Rosenthal threw 14 pitches — the slowest being 97. The K of Ethier was on three pitches: 98, 101 and 98.

Let me reiterate that: Martinez and Rosenthal faced five batters and had five strikeouts between them.

The Dodgers now haven’t scored since the third inning in Game One — 19 innings ago.

And it was a lucky passed ball that allowed the Cardinals to score at all.

As mentioned, Kershaw allowed just two hits — a lead-off triple by Matt Carpenter in the first and a lead-off double by David Freese in the fifth. Yet in the midst of a Matt Adams at-bat that resulted in a strikeout, a pitch got past A.J. Ellis for a passed ball that let Freese move up to third. After Adams struck out, Jon Jay came to the plate. A squeeze play didn’t work after Jay bunted foul, so he swung away and launched a fly to let that allowed Freese to score on the sacrifice fly (and he was a little fired up over it too).

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky, as we all know.

The Cardinals victory — on an unearned run — is rather rare. According to the ESPN Stats and Info blog, no team had won a postseason game with two or fewer hits and no homers since the Athletics in Game Four of the 1974 ALCS against the Orioles. The Cardinals  became just the fourth team to accomplish the feat all-time (also the 1947 Dodgers and 1948 Braves). The Dodgers became just the seventh team in MLB history to lose a 1-0 postseason game on an unearned run and the first since the 2001 Astros.

Some other tidbits from ESPN:

  • Wacha became the second pitcher in Cardinals history with back-to-back postseason starts of at least eight strikeouts and one or fewer runs allowed. The other? Bob Gibson in the 1968 World Series.
  • At just 22 years old, Wacha also became the fifth player (sixth instance) that young to strike out at least eight hitters in a scoreless postseason outing all-time. Steve Avery of the Braves was the last to do it in the 1991 NLCS against the Pirates (Games 2 and 6).

And some interesting info from USA Today:

The Cardinals, with only five hits in the last 18 innings, are hitting just .134 with a .194 on-base percentage and .203 slugging percentage after facing the two-headed monster of Zack Greinke and Kershaw.

Yet, they still find themselves up, 2-0, with their foot on the Dodgers’ throat, squeezing the last bit of air from their lungs.

The Cardinals pitching is this good.

And yes, the Dodgers’ hitting is really that bad.

The Dodgers haven’t scored in their last 19 innings.

Their offense is going so bad that Kershaw, with his one hit Saturday, has produced as many hits as the combined total of Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez.

Puig has disappeared this series, hitless in 10 at-bats with six strikeouts.

We now have a day off to watch the ALCS (which had a pretty amazing 1-0 Tiger victory on Saturday as well) or the NFL (unless your team, like mine, is the Bears and already played on Thursday — thanks, NFL schdule-makers!) to get ready for Game Three at Dodger Stadium on Monday night at 7 p.m. Central.

And a 2-0 series lead for the Cardinals seems like the perfect time for Adam Wainwright to start, doesn’t it? He’ll be opposed by Hyun-Jin Ryu.

Christine Coleman is the lead writer for Aaron Miles’ Fastball. Follow her on Twitter, @CColeman802, or email aaronmilesfastball@gmail.com. Also follow @AMilesFastball for the latest updates.

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