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Nightengale: Wacha shocker: Dodgers may be done in NLCS

5:34 AM, Oct 13, 2013   |    comments
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Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS --
The name is Michael Wacha. You may want to remember it.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will never forget it.

Wacha, the 22-year-old kid who was fresh out of college this time a year ago, just vaulted the St. Louis Cardinals into the World Series.

The Dodgers are dead.

Oh, sure, the Cardinals technically still have two more games to win, but after winning 1-0 Saturday, they are up 2-0 in the National League Championship Series, knocking out the Dodgers' two Cy Young winners.

Oh, yeah, and the Cardinals' top gun, Adam Wainwright, is scheduled Monday in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium

And Wacha will be back for Game 6, or well rested for the World Series.

It's hardly as if the Cardinals are pummelling the Dodgers in this series, winning 3-2 in 13 innings in Game 1, and squeaking out one run against Clayton Kershaw, who'll be this year's Cy Young winner, in Game 2.

Yet, the Cardinals have their foot on the Dodgers' throat, and are squeezing the utter life out of them.

You know you've got problems when the Cardinals have gotten only five hits the last 18 innings, and still are up 2-0.

Yes, the Cardinals pitching is this good.

Or the Dodgers' hitting is really that bad.

The Dodgers have scored in one of their last 22 innings, none of their last 19, and are batting .134 in this series.

Certainly, it didn't help that the Dodgers didn't have shortstop Hanley Ramirez or center fielder Andre Ethier in the lineup. Ramirez still had a sore rib cage from being hit in Game 1 by Cardinals starter Joe Kelly, and Ethier was simply sore from playing 13 innings in his first game in the outfield in a month. He struck out weakly against closer Trevor Rosenthal in a pinch-hit appearance at game's end.

Yet, it doesn't explain how everyone else in that Dodger lineup looked like the Houston Astros.

The Dodgers, lifeless all game against Wacha, got their huge break in the sixth inning.

If they were ever going to score, this was it.

Wacha, who gave up just two hits in the first five innings, gave up a leadoff single to Kershaw. Carl Crawford then hit a grounder towards the right of second baseman Matt Carpenter. Carpenter snared it, but instead of throwing to first base for the out, tried to get Kershaw at second.

The ball sailed into left field, and Kershaw raced to third and Crawford to second.

And still, there were no outs.

Wacha induced a pop-up to Carpenter for the first out, and then intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez, loading the bases.

Up stepped Yasiel Puig.

Strike 1: Puig swung and missed violently on a 95-mph fastball.

Strike 2: Puig looked at a 95-mph fastball.

Ball 1: 96 mph fastball.

Ball 2: 89 mph fastball.

Ball 3: 89 mph fastball.

Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina went to the mound, joined by Carpenter, shortstop Pete Kozma, and first baseman Matt Adams. They simply tried to settle Wacha down, telling him to trust his stuff.

Wacha reared back, fired a 94-mph four-seam fastball that was on the lower inside part of the plate. It looked like it was going to be a ball. Perhaps a strike. Puig was confused as well.

He swung awkwardly, as if he weren't sure what to do.

Strike 3.

He is now hitless in 10 at-bats this series with six strikeouts.

Up stepped Juan Uribe.

Strike 1, Ball 1, Foul, Strike 3.

Good morning, good afternoon, good night

Wacha danced sideways off the mound, Molina pumped his fist and screamed, and the Dodgers stared up into the heavens for help.

The Dodgers, with the richest payroll in National League history, can't buy their way out of this jam.

Oh, and if it's possible for them to feel any worse, they were the ones who could have drafted Wacha with the 19th pick in last year's draft.

They took high school infielder Casey Seager, who finished the season batting .160 in the Class A Cal League.

The Cardinals, who got the 19th pick for compensation from the Los Angeles Angels for signing Albert Pujols, already watched seven pitchers taken.

They sat back and selected Wacha.

Wacha, making just the 11th major-league start of his career, is doing his finest impersonation of Bob Gibson.

Wacha, who nearly threw a no-hitter in his two previous starts, including Game 4 of the NL Division Series against Pittsburgh, has not given up six hits with 22 strikeouts in 26 innings.

Yes, as the Dodgers discovered, he's as good as advertised, as one Dodger scout gushed: "He's got the best changeup I've ever seen by a young pitcher.''

"We had great faith in him to do this,'' Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.

The crazy part, he's just getting started.

He is only the second pitcher in history to start a postseason game less than two years after he was drafted.

Just don't remind the Dodgers, who have seen enough.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @BNightengale

 

USA TODAY

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