ST. LOUIS -- The man who won Game 6 of the National League Championship Series for the St. Louis Cardinals is younger than Yasiel Puig, definitely more mature and maybe even better at baseball.
Michael Wacha, 22, who was in college a year ago, outdueled Clayton Kershaw for the second time in six days Friday night at Busch Stadium, sending the Cardinals to the World Series and continuing a remarkable late-season stretch that is starting to put him on the sport's map.
"I think we just don't talk about it much, because we don't want it to change," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, grinning. "We want him to think that this is normal and this is expected."
It's not normal. Over his last four starts, including three in the playoffs, Wacha has thrown 292/3 innings and allowed one run, striking out 29, allowing nine hits and walking six. He was named the NLCS MVP for his efforts Friday.
"If you had told me back in March that this kid would be winning Game 6 to send us to the World Series, I would've said, 'Maybe, maybe not,'" Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "But the fashion in which he has thrown has just been amazing. He really quieted the other club."
Indeed, Wacha allowed only two hits and one walk in seven scoreless innings Friday. One Dodger reached second base.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly predicted before Game 6 that both his club and the Cardinals would produce more offense than in Game 2, when the same pitching matchup resulted in a 1-0 final.
He was right on one account.
"Obviously we haven't solved that riddle yet," Mattingly said after his team's season ended. "(Wacha) is a guy with a big fastball, a good curveball, and a change. There's nothing really negative to say about him."
The Cardinals drafted Wacha out of Texas A&M with the 19th pick in 2012, famously awarded to them when Albert Pujols signed with the Angels.
He pitched 21 professional innings last year, then 85 innings in Triple-A this season before making his major league debut May 30. In his final regular-season start, he came one out away from a no-hitter, and he's been coming close since, despite his lack of experience.
"He's so mature for his age," said longtime Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter, 16 years Wacha's senior.
Said Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran: "You guys are going to hear from this kid for a long time. I look at him and I look at a guy who wants to be in these types of games. It's been great to watch him come up and develop himself into the pitcher that he is right now."
Wacha said he "definitely" had anxiety going into his Game 6 start, but that he had found ways to channel his nerves. Teammate Matt Carpenter, the Cardinals' second baseman, said he didn't think Wacha had any at all.
"You think about who he was doing it against, you're talking Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball," Carpenter said. "But such little experience, that really doesn't matter for him, because he goes out there with so much confidence. He's been fun to watch, and we're looking forward to giving him a chance to pitch in the World Series."
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