ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Dodgers tied a team record Wednesday with four postseason homers and then anxiously watched their closer give up half of a four-run lead in the ninth inning.
Yet there is a level of comfort for the Dodgers entering Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night, despite trailing, three games to two, and the series concluding at Busch Stadium. That comfort is from lefthander Clayton Kershaw, the major league’s ERA leader and the NL’s likely Cy Young Award winner, starting Game 6.
Kershaw can take the Dodgers to Game 7 with the pressure squarely on the St. Louis Cardinals.
Last year, the Cardinals led the San Francisco Giants, three games to one, in the NLCS before losing Game 5 at home, 5-0, and then scoring just one run in two losses at AT&T Park. Kershaw could increase the Cardinals’ anxiety with a typical outing Friday.
Kershaw watched from the dugout at Dodger Stadium Wednesday as Adrian Gonzalez hit two of the Dodgers’ four homers. Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis also went deep.
“I just always assumed I was going to pitch Game 6,” Kershaw said. “I didn’t really change my opinion too much as [Game 5] went on, but definitely fun to see some home runs fly out of here. Definitely fun to see Gonzalez swing the bat so well. And obviously, Carl Crawford has been swinging the bat well for us in the postseason. It was a lot of fun yesterday, and hopefully we saved a few more for [Friday] too.”
The Cardinals will counter with rookie Michael Wacha, who has been splendid during the postseason, outdueling Kershaw in Game 2 by scattering five hits over 6⅔ scoreless innings. Wacha was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2012 out of Texas A&M and made his major league debut May 30. He made three starts before he was sent down, but returned for good Aug. 10.
He has electric stuff and was able to pitch out of some key jams last Saturday, including a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth to keep the Cardinals ahead, 1-0.
Wacha has allowed just one earned run and six hits in 14 innings this postseason, with 17 strikeouts and three walks.
“I just expect Michael to go out and do what he’s done just like the rest of our guys,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “Make it a pretty simple plan. Stick with what you’ve done all along the way, and don’t ignore and don’t deny the excitement, the extra energy. I think there are some guys who have been able to embrace that and use that to their advantage. I think Michael’s one of those that’s been able to do it so far. Hopefully he just continues to go out and try to make the adjustments that are necessary. I know he’s been paying close attention to this series and how the guys are going about their at-bats, and we don’t want him to do anything more than what he’s already done.”
Kershaw, who made his postseason debut at age 20 in 2008, said the 22-year-old Wacha shouldn’t be unnerved by the moment.
“I think you learn from experience. I think the first couple times in the postseason, I didn’t pitch as well as I would have liked other than a few, maybe one start there,” Kershaw said. “But I don’t know if people can say it’s because of nerves or whatever, but maybe I just didn’t pitch that well.
“I think [Wacha] obviously handles himself pretty well. He’s already pitched in some big games. I don’t think nerves are going to be an issue for him.”
The Dodgers know they will have to mount some type of offense against Wacha. Los Angeles scored two runs over 22 innings in Games 1 and 2, as the Cardinals used their live arms and crisp fastballs to escape numerous jams.
“For offense, you know you have to go out and score, no matter what,” Dodgers center fielder Andre Ethier said. “You can’t win ballgames, 0-0, we gotta score. We gotta put runs up. [Kershaw] trusts us to do our job, but we’ve just gotta go out there and play our game and offensively get a few runs across the board.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe