Something up their sleeves? Cards have enough to beat two aces

News-DemocratOctober 12, 2013 

Turns out the Cards weren't fazed by a couple of aces.

The St. Louis Cardinals flew west Saturday evening armed with a 2-0 lead in the National League Championship Series, thanks to a 1-0 win over Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw in Game 2 on Saturday.

That win came 18 hours after their 3-2 win in Game 1, that one against Dodgers' 15-game winner Zack Greinke.

"Being able to take these first two games of the series really means a lot," Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran said. "Now we need to continue to win. L.A. is going to be tough, the crowd over there is really into it. And it's going to be nuts. It's going to be fun."

As fun as the last two days? Hardly seems possible, not after the Cards' Joe Kelly matched Greinke pitch-for-pitch in the first half of the epic series opener that ended early Saturday morning, and not after rookie sensation Michael Wacha wowed the Dodgers and Kershaw on Saturday afternoon.

"Any time you're going up against a guy like Kershaw, you don't really expect even the best offenses to score a lot of runs off him," Wacha said. "So I tried not to pay too much attention to who was going for them. Just go out there and try to throw zeros."

The Cardinals would never say this aloud, not even to themselves, but surely they would have been happy to get a 1-1 split at Busch Stadium against Greinke and Kershaw.

Now, with ace Adam Wainwright going for the Cards in Game 3, in quest of his 22nd win this season, the Cards appear poised to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Imagine that. And imagine even one more win after that, sometime in the next two games in Dodgertown on Tuesday and Wednesday. Were that to happen, we wouldn't even see the Cardinals back at Busch Stadium until the middle three games of the World Series the week after this.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, especially on a weekend marked by superior Cardinal pitching and an opportunistic offense.

The Cards have scored four runs in two days, on nine hits. Their run Saturday was unearned, and all three of their runs Friday were driven in by the same player, Beltran.

"That's the way this game works, man," Beltran said. "Sometimes you don't have to get a lot of hits in order to score runs. All you have to do is one guy being able to get a double and the next guy able to get him over and get him in.

"All of a sudden one run could be enough to win a ballgame."

One run was enough Saturday, even if it was an unearned run after a David Freese double and a passed ball by Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis.

At that, Freese didn't find his way home until Jon Jay botched a suicide-squeeze play, then lifted a sacrifice fly to left.

There's your run, Wacha. Go get 'em.

"I feel confidence in myself just pitching out there," said Wacha, who has allowed one run on seven hits and two walks (one of them intentional) to the last 78 batters to face him, going back to his no-hit bid that was spoiled with two outs in the ninth inning of his last regular-season start. "(I'm) just attacking the strike zone, just working down in the zone as well.

"Every time I've pitched in these past three starts, they've been close games. So you've just got to stay focused in on every single pitch, every single batter."

You don't have to have Mike Matheny's spot in the dugout to tell that. Though the Cardinals manager appreciates his front-row seat for the last three Wacha outings.

"We pitch him down the stretch, he gets one out away from a no-hitter with the fans going crazy," Matheny said. "We throw him in Pittsburgh and he continues to answer. (We) throw him in the National League Championship Series, and he continues to throw the same way.

"Whatever he's doing, we don't want to change anything."

The same could be said of the Cardinals; since falling behind Pittsburgh two games to one in the best-of-five NL Division Series, the Cardinals have won the next four games by scores of 2-1, 6-1, 3-2 and 1-0.

They can add to that run with a victory behind Wainwright on Monday, but nobody is thinking past that moment.

"We don't get too far ahead of ourselves," 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. But we did a lot of little things right, we made some good defensive plays -- but this game came down to pitching. It came down to Michael being pretty good."

You've got to be pretty good to beat a couple of aces, right?

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the Belleville News-Democrat since their playoff run in 1985. He can be reached at (618) 239-2512, or at jostermeier@bnd.com

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