ST. LOUIS -- The spotlight found Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly yet again.
With his team desperate for offense Saturday, Mattingly lifted ace Clayton Kershaw after just 72 pitches in favor of pinch hitter Michael Young in the seventh inning with a runner on first and two outs. It would have been a fairly routine move if it involved virtually any other pitcher on the planet.
It did, however, involve the man who has led the major leagues in ERA for three consecutive seasons.
This time the move worked out, with Dodgers relievers pitching two scoreless innings. But in the big picture, nothing has worked out well for the Dodgers yet. Young failed to produce again, and the Dodgers left St. Louis with another maddening loss, 1-0 in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
The Dodgers are down 0-2 in this series, with three straight games beginning at Dodger Stadium on Monday. It's not an insurmountable obstacle, but injuries -- the team's undoing in the early months this season -- are piling up. Both Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier were out of the Dodgers lineup with injuries. And, in the next two games, the Dodgers are sending struggling starting pitchers to the mound. The Cardinals have ace Adam Wainwright rested and ready for Game 3.
And the Dodgers' catalyst for much of the summer, Yasiel Puig, is 0-for-10 with six strikeouts in this series.
It was Young who in Game 1 hit into two double plays as the replacement for cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez, who had been lifted for a pinch runner, inciting an endless barrage of second-guessing of Mattingly.
The frustration for both teams’ hitters continued. Then again, when the pitching is this good, should that come as any surprise?
Michael Wacha looks like a sure bet to contend for Cy Young awards one day. The Dodgers wouldn’t argue after going down meekly over 6 2/3 innings. The Dodgers also have yet to score off the St. Louis bullpen in 9 1/3 innings.
The Dodgers’ big failed opportunity came in the sixth inning, when they got runners at second and third with nobody out (thanks to Matt Carpenter’s throwing error) and didn’t score. Wacha was absolutely masterful. After Mark Ellis popped up, he intentionally walked Adrian Gonzalez to get to Puig, who was 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in the series to that point.
Puig swung so hard at Wacha’s first pitch, he fell to one knee. He swung so feebly at Wacha’s last pitch, he couldn’t have looked more confused. Juan Uribe didn’t look any better striking out, and Wacha, 21, jumped off the mound to sprint back to the dugout.
Kershaw breezed through his six innings, allowing just two hits and another unearned run. Kershaw has a 0.36 ERA this postseason in three starts, but he's 1-0, the lack of run support spilling over from the regular season.
The Cardinals didn’t exactly have Kershaw on the ropes often and when they did, they couldn’t land more than a glancing blow. Carpenter led off the St. Louis first with a triple when Puig took a bad route to his line drive in the gap, but Kershaw got Carlos Beltran to pop up, struck out Matt Holliday and got a ground ball out from Yadier Molina.
He couldn’t quite pull of such daring escapism when St. Louis got David Freese to third with nobody out in the fifth. He came pretty close, though. He struck out young Matt Adams and got a shallow fly ball off the bat of Jon Jay. It was just hit to the wrong outfielder. Carl Crawford has a weak arm and his throw sailed up the first-base line, allowing Freese to score easily. The run was unearned, because Freese had reached third base on A.J. Ellis’s passed ball (on a pitch that could have been called a strike).
The way these pitchers were going, 1-0 must have felt like 6-0 in the Dodgers’ dugout.