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Clayton Kershaw still couldn't beat the St. Louis Cardinals. Now he has the offseason to think about what went wrong, along with Yasiel Puig and the rest of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kershaw lasted four-plus innings before getting pulled in a 9-0 loss to St. Louis on Friday night in Game 6 of the NLCS, giving the Cardinals a spot in the World Series for the fourth time in 10 seasons.
The Dodgers haven't been there in 25 years.
"It's hard," Kershaw said. "There's a lot of guys who worked so hard to get here. I wanted to win it for them. It's a great group of guys. I haven't had more fun playing baseball. The group of guys we have in here are so special, I just wanted to be part of the solution."
Trying to overcome a 3-2 postseason series deficit for the first time in franchise history, the Dodgers had Cy Young favorite Kershaw going against rookie Michael Wacha. Like in Game 2 of the series, a 1-0 Cardinals victory, Wacha got the win.
This time it wasn't nearly as close.
Kershaw gave up seven runs on 10 hits and two walks with five strikeouts. The last time he had such a bad outing was also in St. Louis. He surrendered eight runs in five innings July 24, 2012, against the Cardinals.
"I don't have an answer," he said. "Just didn't pitch good. Wasn't good enough."
St. Louis handed Kershaw four losses this season, including the two in the NLCS. Kershaw's 5.09 ERA against the Cardinals dwarfs his overall ERA of 2.06, which includes the postseason.
Carlos Beltran, headed to his first World Series in his 15-year career, went 3 for 4 with three runs batted in. He had one of three doubles off Kershaw.
"One of the best pitchers in the game, no doubt about that," Beltran said. "I think the first time we faced him (Game 2), he was very tough and he was locating well.
"This time, he was a little bit off. We fought. We put ourselves in hitters count. We were able to come through as a team."
Kershaw had allowed one earned run over 19 innings on eight hits during the postseason entering the game. He had gone 17 consecutive innings without an earned run before the wheels fell off in the third.
Matt Carpenter forced Kershaw to throw 11 pitches, fouling off eight of them, before starting the Cardinals' four-run rally with a double down the right-field line. St. Louis used five hits, two walks and was helped by a poor-advised throw and a throwing error from Puig.
"That was a game-changing at bat," catcher A.J. Ellis said.
"From there, it seemed like the floodgates opened," manager Don Mattingly said. "Carlos gets a hit. Just didn't seem to be able to stop the tide at that point. Took a lot out of him."
Kershaw got pulled in the fifth after the first three batters reached on two singles and a double. St. Louis scored five runs in the inning.
His departure unofficially marked the end of a 2013 season that started with injuries and the possibility of Mattingly losing his job before as his team floundered. The Dodgers rebounded to win the NL West title and get within two wins of the World Series.
"What does it really matter?" Kershaw said. "Making the playoffs or coming in last place, if you don't win the World Series it doesn't really matter."
Puig again aided St. Louis when he booted Yadier Molina's leadoff single, allowing the All-Star catcher to reach second. Not that the Cuban rookie's second error mattered, as the Cardinals got all the help they needed elsewhere.
The Dodgers had a chance at a possible double play, but got nothing when Mark Ellis couldn't come up with a grounder cleanly enough to even throw home for a possible force. J.P. Howell added to the misery with a wild pitch, bringing home the Cardinals' final run.
Andre Ethier, who struck out twice against Wacha, said giving up four runs early in the game didn't seem insurmountable. He figured Kershaw would settle in and with six innings to go, the Dodgers still had a chance.
"It definitely was when they put five up there two innings later," he said.
Wacha, voted the series Most Valuable Player, didn't allow the Dodgers much hope. He gave up two hits in seven innings, struck out five and walked one.
Los Angeles was attempting to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988. The Dodgers reached the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 but lost to Philadelphia both times.