ST. LOUIS — The Dodgers' season was suddenly over and Clayton Kershaw couldn't explain why.
"I don't have an answer," he said. "I just wasn't good enough."
Baseball's consensus No. 1 pitcher unexpectedly fell apart Friday night at Busch Stadium, where the St. Louis Cardinals advanced to the World Series by scoring seven runs against him on their way to a 9-0 victory. The Cardinals won the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, four games to two.
Kershaw made what was by far his shortest start of the season, as he was removed by Manager Don Mattingly before recording a single out in the fifth inning. The prohibitive favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award, Kershaw completed a minimum of five innings in each of his previous 36 starts.
Perhaps Kershaw was fatigued from pitching a career-high 259 innings this season. Or maybe he was feeling the effects of pitching on three days' rest in a division series victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Kershaw's mistakes on the mound were compounded by Yasiel Puig's mistakes in right field, as the rookie sensation made a couple of misguided throws in the third inning and a fielding error in the fifth.
"Errors are part of the game," Puig said, his eyes red.
Kershaw's unraveling started with an 11-pitch at-bat by Matt Carpenter, which culminated with a one-out double to right field in the third inning.
"That was a game-changing at-bat," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Carlos Beltran followed with a run-scoring single that put the Cardinals ahead, 1-0. Puig, who fielded Beltran's hit, fired the ball toward home plate, allowing Beltran to advance to second.
Kershaw struck out Matt Holliday, but Yadier Molina capitalized on Puig's mistake by driving in Beltran with a two-strike single to center field.
Kershaw loaded the bases by giving up a single to David Freese and walking Matt Adams.
Kershaw and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt barked at home plate umpire Greg Gibson after the walk. Asked if he thought his full-count pitch to Adams caught the plate, Kershaw said, "There's no point in talking about it now. It's over with."
The next batter, Shane Robinson, essentially blew open the game with a single to right that drove in two runs and extended the Cardinals' lead to 4-0.
Puig, who charged in to field the ball, threw it high over Ellis' head for an error, allowing Adams and Robinson to both take an extra base. With men on second and third, Kershaw intentionally walked Pete Kozma.
"We just couldn't get out of it," Ellis said of the inning. "It was really hard to find that put-away pitch to end that inning. They did a great job of fouling off pitches. That's why they are who they are."
Kershaw finally ended the inning by striking out the pitcher, Michael Wacha, the 10th batter to come to the plate. He threw 48 pitches in the inning.
Kershaw pitched a perfect fourth inning but encountered immediate trouble in the fifth.
Molina led off that inning with a single to right field. Puig tried to field the ball on a bounce but it hit off his glove and rolled behind him. The error allowed Molina to advance to second base. Molina reached third on a single by Freese and scored on a double by Adams.
With the Cardinals now up, 5-0, Mattingly replaced Kershaw with Ronald Belisario.
Belisario and left-hander J.P. Howell combined to let in four more runs, two of which were charged to Kershaw.
Kershaw felt as if he had let down his teammates.
"I wanted to win for them," Kershaw said. "It's a great group of guys. I never had more fun playing baseball. The group of guys we have in here is so special that I wanted to be part of the solution, I wanted to get those guys there, especially the guys that have never been there."
The Dodgers' hitters, in turn, felt as if they had let down Kershaw. They managed only two hits and a walk against Wacha, who pitched seven innings.
This was the second time in this series that Dodgers failed to score on the night Kershaw pitched. He also was the losing pitcher in Game 2, when he gave up an unearned run in a 1-0 defeat to Wacha and the Cardinals.
"We know teams that are here this late are going to have great pitching staffs, but you still have to score runs," said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.