LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw is unbeatable. Adam Wainwright shines whenever his team needs him. The St. Louis Cardinals have no power.
All three statements were grounded in fact in the regular season. All three were disproved in one wild playoff game at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
The Cardinals hit three home runs, and Wainwright, their ace, could not last through five innings. But the most jarring image from the Cardinals’ 10-9 victory in Game 1 of their division series was Kershaw walking off the mound, having lost a five-run lead.
“I feel terrible,” said Kershaw, who tied a Dodgers record for runs allowed in a postseason game, with eight. “It’s an awful feeling, letting the team down. We were playing great, got a bunch of runs, and I couldn’t hold it.”
Kershaw went 21-3 this season, with a 1.77 earned run average, and the fans chanted “M-V-P!” as he entered the bullpen for his pregame warm-ups. But he reverted to the discouraging form of last fall’s National League Championship Series, when the Cardinals thrashed him for seven runs to win the pennant in Game 6.
Matt Carpenter started that rout with a double to cap an 11-pitch at-bat. He finished off Kershaw in the seventh inning Friday with another double, on the eighth pitch of his at-bat, to clear the bases and give the Cardinals a lead they never lost.
“There was a moment during that at-bat where I was feeling the same kind of emotions I was having last year,” Carpenter said. “It was a very similar thing, very similar at-bat. Honestly, in that moment, I was trying to really just lock in on what I was trying to accomplish, and that was just being competitive and having a tough at-bat in an inning where we had a lot of action.”
The Cardinals scored the fewest runs of any team in the postseason field — even the Mets outscored them this season — and only one team in the majors, the Kansas City Royals, hit fewer home runs. Kershaw, meanwhile, became the first pitcher ever to lead the majors in E.R.A. in four consecutive seasons.
But the Cardinals often give him fits. In 18 career starts against them, including the postseason, he is 5-8 with a 4.11 E.R.A. He is winless in four starts against them in the playoffs.
“They’re professional guys,” said Kershaw, whose career postseason E.R.A. jumped to 5.20 in 10 appearances. “They string together hits well. It seems like they just kind of feed off of each other. If you can kind of keep them off the bases and limit them to solo home runs, like tonight the first few innings, you’ve got a pretty good chance. But they battle well, they don’t ever give up, and I let them back in the game.”
Wainwright, who won all his starts in September to lead the Cardinals to the National League Central Division crown, had his own surprising failure. He needed 44 pitches to wade through the first two scoreless innings, and then hit Yasiel Puig with a 1-1 fastball leading off the third.
In Game 1 of last year’s N.L.C.S., the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly drilled Hanley Ramirez in the ribs, knocking him out of the next game and limiting his effectiveness. After Puig was hit this time, Adrian Gonzalez, the next hitter, objected when he came to the plate.
That infuriated catcher Yadier Molina, who barked angrily at Gonzalez, pointing at him and pushing the plate umpire, Jerry Meals, in the back as he tried to reach him. The benches and bullpens cleared, and when play resumed, the Dodgers battered Wainwright for six runs, chasing him in the fifth. It was the first start of Wainwright’s career in which he gave up at least 11 hits in fewer than five innings.
Just as unlikely was Kershaw’s blowing a big lead. When he started the seventh, he had not pitched with a runner on base all game, having given up just two solo homers, to Randal Grichuk and Carpenter. But a barrage of four singles greeted him that inning, and after a strikeout, a single and another strikeout — his 10th — Carpenter came to bat.
Kershaw quickly got ahead of Carpenter, 0-2, with fastballs. Carpenter fouled them both and just kept doing it, smacking three more foul — with two balls mixed in — before catcher A. J. Ellis set his target low and away for the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
Instead, Kershaw left a 95-mile-an-hour fastball up and over the middle. Carpenter did not miss it, crushing the mistake to deep right center. Kershaw turned and watched it fly, bending at the waist, his glove and his left hand on his knees. The lead was gone and his day was done.
“I’m going to stay up until 3 in the morning second-guessing every pitch I called that inning,” said Ellis, whose four hits offered little comfort. “But you’ve got to get past it and get ready to catch Zack tomorrow.”
In Zack Greinke, the Dodgers have another ace lined up for Saturday. But they now know that if they are going to advance, they cannot sweep. That means Kershaw could be asked to pitch on short rest in Game 4. He contemplated that assignment, glumly, after the game.
“I’ll always want to pitch,” Kershaw said. “It’s hard to think about right now. Who knows if they even want me to pitch at this point?”
The Dodgers still had a chance after Kershaw left. They rallied for three late runs before Trevor Rosenthal struck out Puig with a 99-m.p.h. fastball to end a most improbable game.
“I’m sure everybody in baseball was expecting a one-run game,” Carpenter said. “We ended up getting one — but we didn’t think it would be 10-9.”Tags: car, game