St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny's decision to start Joe Kelly in NLCS Game 1 was concerning from the moment it was announced. Sure, Kelly had a shiny ERA over the second half of the 2013 regular season, but it masked his below average peripherals. Entering the series, the question regarding Kelly was how long would it be until he allowed runs to score at a level on par with his true pitching skill. The NLCS has given us the answer.
Kelly was his second-half self only more so in Game 1. The righthander's performance could be described as blase if it weren't so nerve-racking. Kelly allowed eight Dodgers to reach base yet somehow surrendered just two runs.
In Wednesday's NLCS Game 5, Kelly's incredible run of good luck came to a brutal end.
Before Kelly toed the rubber, though, his teammates had a chance to give him a first-inning lead. Matt Carpenter led the game off with a single to left. Carlos Beltran drew a walk. Then Matt Holliday blooped a single that safely found outfield grass in left-center. With the bases juiced and nobody out, Matt Adams struck out. Yadier Molina followed by grounding into a 5-4-3 double play that ended the Redbirds' threat without a single run.
It didn't take the L.A. long to start knocking Kelly around Dodger Stadium. Adrian Gonzalez led off the second inning and Kelly threw him two pitches wide of the zone. Gonzalez then laced Kelly's belt-high 2-0 fastball for a line drive single to right. After center fielder Andre Ethier flew out to left field, phenom Yaisel Puig dug in. Kelly fired a fastball right over the heart of the plate, which Puig lined to right for a base hit. The Dodgers had runners one first and second with one out.
Juan Uribe followed Puig by grounding an RBI single up the middle that plated Gonzalez (uncontested by the noodle-armed Jon Jay). After Kelly got A.J. Ellis to pop out down the right-field line, pitcher Zack Greinke grounded through the 5.5 hole to make it 2-0 L.A. Kelly struck out Carl Crawford to end the inning and strand two Dodgers, but the damage was done.
To the St. Louis batters' credit, they rallied behind their struggling starting pitcher in the next half-inning. Carpenter rapped a one-out single that snaked through the right side of the infield. Then Beltran lined a ball off the center field fence, less than a foot short of a dinger. What does Beltran have to do to hit a ball over the wall--as opposed to merely off it--against Greinke?
Unlike in Game 1, the Cards didn't strand Beltran after his near-homer, extra-base hit. Holliday unleashed violence on a Greinke cutter, shooting it into the left-center gap. The slugger's RBI double tied the game at two.
Adams followed Holliday with a hit that beat the Dodgers' patented mayo shift. His slow dribbler to where the second baseman would normally play could not be fielded in time by Mark Ellis. And so the Redbirds had runners at the corners and Molina at the bat. Yadi's second opportunity to give the Cards the lead ended the same as the first: with a ground ball that resulted in an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the third, Gonzalez again connected with a meaty Kelly two-seamer. A-Gon took the belt-high pitch deep and into the Dodger Stadium bleachers. The blast gave L.A. a 3-2 lead.
Trailing by one in the top of the fifth, Matheny elected to have Kelly bat. He struck out swinging. In the bottom of the fifth, Kelly tossed a fat two-seamer to Crawford, who blasted it into the seats for a 4-2 Dodgers lead. Matheny finally, mercifully yanked Kelly out of the game after five innings. Kelly's NLCS ERA sits at 4.91 and his overall postseason ERA is 4.41.
Randy Choate relieved Kelly and did Randy Choate things, retiring the lefthanders Gonzalez and Ethier on eight total pitches. Mujica came in and didn't look too bad in his 1 1/3 innings pitched except for a solo homer to A.J. Ellis. John Axford threw next and didn't look to0 bad in his inning, either, except for a solo homer by Gonzalez. (I suppose critiquing such outings this way is akin to saying the Titanic's journey wasn't so bad except for the iceberg.) The Wiggintier of the bullpen took a 4-2 deficit and made it 6-2, an unfortunate turn of events that would prove fatal to the Cardinals' hopes of winning a National League Pennant on this day.
The Cardinals rallied valiantly against L.A. closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth. Holliday "doubled" when Puig apparently lost his fliner in the afternoon sun. Adams singled on a liner to center that plated Holliday. Yadi put a fitting punctuation on his miserable day at the plate with a strike out. Jay singled. Freese K'd. Kozma warlock'd in Adams, making the score 6-4.
With the tying run on first, Matheny sent Adron Chambers to pinch-hit. Chambers hacked at the first offering from Jansen, fouling it off. He let the next two strikes go by without getting the bat off his shoulder. Chambers' backward-K ended the game.
Game 6 will be in St. Louis on Friday at 7:00 p.m. CDT. Michael Wacha will start against Clayton Kershaw.