Season ends amid a barrage of hits

ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers' season ended with a maddening array of tiny blows.

Ace Clayton Kershaw couldn't make it out of the fifth inning amid a barrage of St. Louis Cardinals hits, and the Dodgers lost Game 6 of the National League Championship Series 9-0 Friday night at Busch Stadium. St. Louis won the series, which turned chippy at times, four games to two.

It was Kershaw's worst outing of 2013, by a long stretch, and it came at a bad time for a Dodgers team that had fought its way out of a deep hole in the regular season and was trying to do the same in this series. The Dodgers trailed by two games twice but had won two of three at home to make it a series and send it back to the Midwest.

St. Louis had 13 hits, 10 of them singles.

Before Friday, Kershaw hadn't given up as many as four runs in an inning all season. He had given up as many as four earned runs in a game only three times.

In a way, it wouldn't have mattered if Kershaw had been masterful, as he was in Game 2, because once again the Dodgers couldn't handle St. Louis’s talented young right-hander, Michael Wacha, who gave up only two hits in seven innings.

The Cardinals advance to the World Series, where they will face either the Boston Red Sox or Detroit Tigers. The Dodgers fall a step short of their ultimate goal, just as they had done in 2008 and 2009.

Speculation now figures turn to manager Don Mattingly. He is expected to return in 2014, but the team has not made any public announcements about his future. There wasn't a lot Mattingly could do Friday when his ace, a presumptive winner of the 2013 Cy Young award, unraveled. Or when his mercurial right fielder, Yasiel Puig, made a couple of misplays in the field.

Before the game began, Mattingly predicted both teams would have better at-bats than they had in Game 2, when shadows had partially obscured the field. He was half right.

On a cool fall night next to the Mississippi River, none of the hitters looked particularly comfortable in the first two innings, but St. Louis erupted in the third. The hinge was Matt Carpenter's 11-pitch at-bat, which included eight foul balls. Kershaw seemed out of sorts after that.

He gave up a Carlos Beltran RBI single, a Yadier Molina RBI single and a Shane Robinson two-run single. Puig threw to Adrian Gonzalez rather than second base on Beltran's hit, allowing him to take second. He later overran a Molina single for an error in the fifth, when St. Louis added five more runs.

The Dodgers had worried that Puig would make a key mistake at a bad time this fall, but by the time he did, it was largely irrelevant because the team's best pitcher was giving up hit after hit. Puig was booed loudly in his second-inning at-bat. Many people in St. Louis, including some Cardinals players, were critical of the flashy style Puig and some of his teammates displayed at times in the series.

The Dodgers' season began with sky-high expectations after the ownership's winter spending spree, but they were 9 1/2 games out of first on June 21 before ripping off a 42-8 run to storm into first place. They were the first team to clinch a postseason berth and the first team to clinch a berth in the NLCS by beating Atlanta three games to one in the first round.