ST. LOUIS -- Michael Wacha wasn't supposed to be in the major leagues this season. Nor were Carlos Martinez or Kevin Siegrist.
Trevor Rosenthal was only supposed to be on the mound in the ninth inning if the St. Louis Cardinals were way ahead or way behind.
But you know how kids are these days; they never seem to know their place. Which is how those four twentysomething Cardinals pitchers found themselves combining to get 26 of the 27 outs in Saturday's five-hit shutout of the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
"For these young guys to keep going out there, to have the kind of confidence to go in there and do the jobs they're been doing, that's kind of impressive," said 38-year-old reliever Randy Choate, who got the other out.
That wasn't an anomaly, by the way. It's part of a trend.
Wacha, a 22-year-old right-hander who was in college 16 months ago, has given up one run in his last three starts, twice coming within five outs of a no-hitter. Martinez, 22, has allowed only one hit in five postseason games. Rosenthal, 23, who didn't become the full-time closer until September, hasn't surrendered a run since getting the job. Siegrist, at 24 the oldest of the four, has an 0.43 earned-run average in 48 games.
Martinez and Rosenthal have fastballs that have topped 100 mph. Siegrist isn't far behind. Wacha, the soft-tosser of the bunch, regularly hits 97.
Together they help anchor a staff that has posted a 2.05 ERA in seven postseason games, holding opponents to a .196 average. They've been even better in two games against the Dodgers, who haven't scored in their last 19 innings.
What's more, the Cardinals haven't even used their ace yet. Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner who beat the Pittsburgh Pirates twice in the division series, is scheduled to start Game 3 Monday at Dodger Stadium.
"We're still playing this year but it's pretty promising going forward the next few years, what our staff is capable of doing," Wainwright said. "These guys are immensely talented. And they're great competitors. They work their tails off and they're prepared. It's a great mix."
Wacha was the opening act Saturday. He wasn't as dominant as he had been in recent starts--he lost his no-hitter in the first inning--but he may have been tougher, bearing down to get out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the sixth by striking out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe.
"His maturity level is not normal for a kid that's his age," said Chris Carpenter, a former Cy Young Award winner who's been limited by injury to just two starts the last two seasons. "It's been a lot of fun to watch him rise to the occasion. Not only rise to the occasion, but wanting to be in the situation. It's a tough spot to be in when you're 22 years old."
Wacha probably wouldn't have been in that situation if not for injuries to Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook. That left the Cardinals desperate for starting pitching, opening the way for Wacha and 23-year-old Shelby Miller.
Carpenter said someone asked him recently how good the Cardinals would be if he was still in the rotation. The three-time All-Star said he didn't think he would be an improvement.
"If you had me all year, we wouldn't have seen half these guys. So we wouldn't be in this situation," Carpenter said. "This is how it works. I got an opportunity because Juan Guzman got hurt. I wasn't prepared to pitch in the big leagues yet.
"I had an opportunity, I took advantage of it. These guys are taking advantage of my injury, Jaime's injury. And when you get the opportunity, it's what you do with it."
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