The Dodgers could have imagined a lot of scenarios for their Game 6 Friday night and never come up with the one that actually unfolded.
Not in the wildest dreams or darkest nightmares. Clayton Kershaw almost melting. Their defense unable to make a play. Their hitting less than rumor.
There will be no 25th anniversary return to the World Series for the Dodgers, not after they were embarrassed 9-0 by the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium to clinch the National League Championship Series.
The Cardinals did more little things, made less mistakes, were more clutch at the plate and out-pitched the Dodgers. And whether you believe the Dodgers have the more talented roster, it was clear by the time the series was over, they were not the better team.
The Dodgers finished with two hits, two errors, three wild pitches, a pair of wild throws from right-fielder Yasiel Puig and numerous missed plays.
And for the second consecutive game, the Dodgers could not come close to figuring out rookie right-hander Michael Wacha. The 22-year-old held them scoreless on just two hits in his seven innings.
All while Kershaw was experiencing his worst outing in years. It must have felt like an out-of-body experience for the left-hander.
His demise began with an 11-pitch at-bat to Matt Carpenter, the second baseman fouling off eight pitches in the third before doubling into the right-field corner.
The floodgates cracked and then burst open. Kershaw was clearly not in top form, and the Cardinals capitalized without mercy.
They scored four times in the third, Kershaw needing 48 pitches to get out of the inning. They scored five more times in a disastrous fifth inning and suspense had taken an early night off.
Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier all could have been in top health and it wouldn’t have mattered on this night.
Here is an inning-by-inning recap of Game 6 of the NLCS:
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (middle of ninth, final):
Closer Trevor Rosenthal completed the mercy killing, retiring the Dodgers in order to set off a party under the arch.
The Dodgers did not get a hit after the sixth. Their last 12 were retired in order. After seeing their ace go down, they had no fight left.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (end of eighth):
They’re in official countdown mode now. Carlos Marmol allowed one hit in his second inning, but otherwise the Cardinals went down quickly. They do have places to be.
Three outs and the Dodgers can start planning for their season opener in Sydney.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (middle of eighth):
Carlos Martinez, yet another of the Cardinals’ cast of hard-throwing youngsters, took over to start the eight. And not to change things up, he retired the Dodgers in order.
The Dodgers are down to their final three outs.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (end of seventh):
Even the Cardinals seem in a hurry to get this over now.
Right-hander Carlos Marmol took over in the seventh and retired the Cardinals in order.
Rookie Michael Wacha, 22, was pinch hit for, so he’s done for the night. The Dodgers never did score against him in two NLCS starts. In his seven scoreless innings, he allowed only two hits and a walk, with five strikeouts.
He did not allow the Dodgers to score in 13 2/3 innings of his two series victories over Clayton Kershaw.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (middle of seventh):
Meanwhile, Michael Wacha -- who was pitching in college a year ago -- continues to look like a quickly budding ace.
He retired the Dodgers in order again has allowed only two hits and a walk through seven.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (end of sixth):
Chris Withrow became the Dodgers’ fourth pitcher. He gave up a one-out walk and single to David Freese, but got Shane Robinson to hit into a double play.
It’s all over but the moaning.
Clayton Kershaw’s final line: four-plus innings, seven runs (earned), 10 hits, two walks and five strikeouts.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (middle of sixth):
Well, the Dodgers did get a hit, A.J. Ellis’ double off the center-field wall doubling their night’s total.
Yet despite the leadoff double, the Dodgers could never advance him from second. Michael Wacha retired the next three Dodgers in order.
There are no mercy killings in baseball.
Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0 (end of fifth):
It’s all getting away from the Dodgers, inning by inning, play by play. And there will be no Clayton Kershaw to save them.
It’s a blowout now, all that’s left is for the Cardinals to get the last 12 outs.
Yadier Molina opened what would prove a nightmare inning with a hit to Yasiel Puig in right field. Puig seemed to take his eye off the ball, almost like he was thinking of trying to throw out Molina at first. Instead, the ball ricocheted off his glove for his second error and Molina took second.
David Freese singled Molina to third, and Matt Adams doubled him home.
And in the biggest outing of his career, Kershaw was lifted in the fourth inning for the first time all season.
Ronald Belisario came on, and after getting Freese caught in a rundown on a fielder’s choice, he intentionally walked Pete Kozma to load the bases and bring up pitcher Michael Wacha.
With the infield in, Belisario got Wacha to bounce to Mark Ellis, but the normally reliable second baseman bobbled the ball momentarily, throwing just late to the plate as Adams scored.
Left-hander J.P. Howell took over for Belisario, but Matt Carpenter lifted a run-scoring sacrifice fly, Howell threw a wild pitch and Carlos Beltran singled, all scoring runs.
It was 9-0 and the Dodgers had one hit.
Cardinals 4, Dodgers 0 (middle of fifth):
The Dodgers are going down quickly.
Rookie Michael Wacha retired them in order in the fifth, Carlos Beltran adding to his big night by diving to make a nice catch off a Juan Uribe liner for the third out.
Right now, there is no sense that the Dodgers are going to come back in this one.
Cardinals 4, Dodgerts 0 (end of fourth):
And for something really different, Clayton Kershaw retired the Cardinals in order for the first time all night.
Unlike his disastrous 48-pitch third inning, the fourth took him just 10 pitches.
The Dodgers, however, have yet to even indicate they’ve started to figure out rookie Michael Wacha, who has yet to allow the Dodgers a run in the 10 2/3 innings thus far in his two NLCS starts against them.
Cardinals 4, Dodgers 0 (middle of fourth):
Has the air gone out of the Dodgers? Has to be tough watching your best pitcher suffer the worst inning of his season at exactly the wrong time.
The Dodgers got a leadoff walk from Carl Crawford, but then went in order.
That bottom of the third was the first time all season a team batted around against Clayton Kershaw. He’d only given up as many as four runs in an entire game only four times all season.
Cardinals 4, Dodgers 0 (end of third):
Matt Carprenter’s gritty at-bat, Carlos Beltran in the clutch and Yasiel Puig never learning.
It added up to an inning that may haunt the Dodgers for a long time.
The left-handed hitting Carpenter had an 11-pitch at-bat -- fouling off eight pitches -- before hitting a one-out double. Clayton Kershaw being unable to put him away would prove costly.
Beltran singled just over the glove of diving second baseman Mark Ellis to score Carpenter with the game’s first run.
But Puig, doing exactly the thing the Dodgers feared he would in the playoffs, threw needlessly to the plate, even though he had no chance to get Carpenter. Beltran alertly kept running to second on the brain cramp.
Which proved significant when Yadier Molina singled up the middle to score Beltran. Hanley Ramirez is not going to be diving for any balls with those sore ribs.
David Freese followed by hitting a single through the legs of Kershaw. The Dodgers thought they had caught Matt Adams looking at third strike on a full-count pitch, but instead Adams drew a walk to load the bases.
Things spiraled out of control for Kershaw when he gave up a two-run single to Shane Robinson. Puig fielded the ball and again threw needlessly and high to the plate for an error that allowed the runners to advance.
Kershaw struck out right-hander Michael Wacha to end the bleeding, but the damage was done. Kershaw will not be long for in this game. He threw 48 pitches in the third and already has thrown 81 pitches in three innings.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (middle of third):
There may not be any shadows tonight like in Game 2, but it’s not helping the Dodgers to figure out rookie Michael Wacha.
Since Carl Crawford’s leadoff infield single, Wacha has retired eight consecutive. And Crawford was erased on a double play.
This game is starting to look very familiar.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of second):
After getting the first two outs, Clayton Kershaw made things interesting.
He gave up a two-out single to Shane Robinson and then starting struggling with his curveball, throwing consecutive wild pitches to advance him to third. The Cardinals scored their only run off Kershaw in Game 2 after a passed ball.
Zershaw pitched out of the trouble by striking out Pete Kozma.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (middle of second):
Hanley Ramirez saw one pitch and hit a routine fly to Shane Robinson in center. Can’t make too much out of that, but at least he got it out of the infield for the first time since Monday.
All the attention has been on Ramirez battling his broken rib, but after striking out, Andre Ethier and his sore ankle are batting just .167 (3 for 18) in the NLCS.
Michael Wacha also struck out Yasiel Puig to retire the Cardinals in order.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (end of first):
Carlos Beltran hit a one-out, 2-0 pitch into the left-field corner for a double, but Clayton Kershaw came back to strike out Matt Holliday and get Yadier Molina to bounce out to second.
Next comes the first look at Hanley Ramirez, of the he’s-in-he’s-out pregame dance.
Dodgers 0, Cardinals 0 (middle of first):
The Dodgers failed to score against Michael Wacha in the first, which is starting to feel uncomfortably familiar.
Carl Crawford did beat out an infield hit to start the game but was erased when Mark Elllis bounced into a double play. Adrian Gonzalez, after a solid round of boos after he was introduced, bounced out sharply to third.
The Dodgers must have found some magic potion, or something, because now Hanley Ramirez is back in the lineup.
Ramirez was originally scratched, though Manager Don Mattingly had given himself some wiggle room. He said this before the game:
“If something would change before game time, we’d switch up. All of a sudden he’s trying to do things and he could get loose, he may be in there. But I don’t anticipate that.”
Maybe Ramirez is trying to do a Willis Reed, but the Dodgers best watch him closely. This is not something they’d want to blow up on them, what with their season only on the line.
Ramirez is back at shortstop and batting cleanup.
The Dodgers understandably have always seemed a more confident team with Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the lineup.
“If he’s healthy the whole season, he’s the league MVP,” said Nick Punto.
But it’s Punto no Ramirez in the Dodgers lineup at shortstop as they attempt to avoid elimination in tonight’s Game 6 in St. Louis, not Ramirez.
Ramirez has succumbed to the broken rib he suffered in the opener. Given that his swing has hardly been the same since, it seems the smart decision, even though Manager Don Mattingly hoped following Thursday’s off-day, Ramirez might actually have felt slightly better Friday.
“I expected (with) yesterday off and kind of a full day today, that he’d be a little better,” Mattingly said. “But I think maybe the lack of activity, (it) may even have just gotten stiffer or tighter. He didn’t really say anything like that. Just more that he feels worse today than did he yesterday.”
Mattingly was unsure if Ramirez might get his side loose enough for him to be able to pinch hit later in the game.
Meanwhile, Friday offers a rematch between Clayton Kershaw and Cardinals’ phenom Michael Wacha, who won their first postseason contest 1-0.
“I think these are the games you want to play,” Mattingly said. “Your guys get excited. You’ve worked all year long for this. Kershaw and Wacha obviously, this is a cool matchup. These are two quality guys going at it. Two teams that want to move on.”
With Ramirez out, Mattingly moved rookie Yasiel Puig into the cleanup spot.
St. Louis Manager Mike Matheny made one lineup change, moving Shane Robinson into center for the left-handed hitting Jon Jay.
“The thought process really is to try and get some more offense if we can,” Matheny said. “It’s no secret how effective Kershaw has been against left-handed hitters and he’s a tough assignment.”
Left-handed hitters hit .165 against Kershaw in the regular season, but right-handers weren’t much better, hitting .202