ST. LOUIS — Manager Mike Matheny and his St. Louis Cardinals have trodden down this path before and it was no walk in the park.
The Cardinals saw their 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series cut to 3-2 on Wednesday with a 6-4 loss to Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers hit four home runs, two by Adrian Gonzalez.
Game 6 is set for 7:37 p.m. Friday at Busch Stadium, with rookie right-hander Michael Wacha pitching for St. Louis against Los Angeles left-hander and NL Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw. It's a rematch of Game 2 when Wacha beat Kershaw 1-0 on Jon Jay's fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
If necessary, Game 7 will be at 7:37 p.m. Saturday.
"Just keep attacking the (strike) zone ... and limit the bases on balls. That's where you get in trouble as a pitcher," Wacha said of the most important thing about facing the Dodgers for a second time in six days. "I feel like if you can just attack the zone, like basically all our pitchers have been doing this series, it'll be pretty good."
Common sense says the Cardinals remain in control. One victory stands between them and their fourth World Series berth in the last 10 years.
But memories, wounds from last year are fresh.
The Cardinals held a 3-1 edge against San Francisco in the NLCS, only to lose three in a row, including the last two in San Francisco. St. Louis also squandered a 3-1 lead in the 1996 NLCS against Atlanta, the final two games being played in Atlanta.
The difference this year is the Cardinals are at home, where they were 54-27 in the regular season and are 4-1 in the postseason. And they're facing a pitcher in Kershaw that they already have defeated three times --twice in the regular season, once in the playoffs.
"It's huge having homefield advantage," Wacha said. "It's great playing back here in front of these great fans. I feel like it will be fun. It was a lot more fun pitching at home than it was in Pittsburgh (in Game 4 of the NL Division Series), that's for sure.
"I'm really looking forward to the big crowd out there (Friday) night and the energy going around the ballpark."
The Cardinals were 19-23 against lefties in the regular season, and if they don't beat Kershaw, the Dodgers have another one ready for them in Game 7 in Hyun-jin Ryu, who threw seven scoreless innings in a 3-0 win in Game 3.
Wacha emerged late in the regular season and has turned it up a notch in the playoffs. He has allowed one run on six hits in 14 postseason innings, walking three and striking out 17. Matheny anticipates more of the same Friday night.
"I expect Michael to go out and do what he's done -- just like the rest of our guys," Matheny said. "We make it a pretty simple plan. You stick with what you've done all along the way. Don't ignore and don't deny the excitement and the extra energy. There's some guys that have been able to embrace that and use that to their advantage. Michael has been one of those who's been able to do it so far.
"We don't want him to do any more than he's done."
Wacha said the matchup with Kershaw doesn't have added significance since Kershaw, like Wacha, is from Texas.
"I guess I haven't really thought about it like that," Wacha said. "I wouldn't say so. I feel like there's a lot of great players from Texas. I feel like we kind of support each other, I guess, in a way. I just try not to see who I'm facing on the other side and try to worry about myself, mainly."
The Cardinals are batting a scant .178 with nine extra-base hits in 163 at-bats in the series. Matt Holliday and Shane Robinson have the only homers, both coming in St. Louis' 4-2 victory in Game 4.
Matheny was encouraged that the top of his order was successful Wednesday. Matt Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Holliday and Matt Adams were a combined 8-for-15 and scored all the Cardinals' runs. The problem? The rest of the lineup was 2-for-20.
"I think we're seeing some better swings overall," Matheny said. "As we've watched this team all season long, you can kind of sense when things are getting ready to click. We're getting a little closer. It's been nice to have the pitching that we've had to be in the position that we're in right now --without that offense."
The Cardinals' pitching staff has a 2.49 ERA, nearly matching the Dodgers' 2.09. Los Angeles has outscored the Cardinals 13-12.
"But our offense has been something that has been, I believe, a big defining portion of our club this season," Matheny said. "We're excited to see the top of the lineup get a bunch of hits, but also seeing some big hits from some guys down at the bottom. I'm seeing some better at-bats overall, but it just comes down to getting the big hit. That's one that really eluded us (Wednesday)."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.