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NLCS Gm6: Kershaw, Wacha face off again in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- The scouting report on the 2013 National League Championship Series probably should have included the phrase "expect the unexpected."

The scene shifts from sunny SoCal back to the banks of the mighty Mississippi for Game 6 on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS.

The St. Louis Cardinals have a 3-2 series lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers, which should not be shocking in any elemental sense. But the way the teams reached this point has been full of twists and turns and surprises of varying sizes.

The Dodgers, at the doorstep of postseason elimination, earned themselves another chance on Wednesday with a 6-4 victory at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers, hitting four home runs in that game, believe that they have turned the corner offensively and generated considerable momentum in the process. But the Cardinals still own the series lead and the remainder of this series is scheduled for Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals will be home, where they happily went 54-27 during the regular season for baseball's second-best home record.

The Cardinals are carrying some historical baggage at this juncture. They had a 3-1 lead in the 2012 NLCS, but lost three straight to the Giants, being outscored 20-1 in the process.

The Cardinals are convinced that this time will have little to do with that time.

"We're not going to San Francisco, we're going home, so I think that's a big plus," third baseman David Freese said.

The final two games of last year's NLCS were played in San Francisco. Plus, the last two St. Louis starters were Chris Carpenter, who was not physically right, and Kyle Lohse, who appeared to be worn down.

This series, one, or possibly two, spectacular pitching matchups are still on tap. Game 6 will feature Michael Wacha, the phenomenon of this postseason, against the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, who will likely receive his second Cy Young Award.

If the Dodgers prevail and a Game 7 becomes necessary, the Cardinals will go with their ace, Adam Wainwright, who lost a decision in a well-pitched performance in Game 3, but who sports a 1.57 ERA for three starts in this postseason. Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who worked seven shutout innings in that game, would work the finale for the Dodgers.

In any case, the outlook is for a compelling ending to a series that just one game ago appeared to be close to a done deal, when the Cardinals held a 3-1 lead.

"We know they're not going to give up, they're going to fight until the end just like we are," said Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, who homered twice in Game 5. "This series is still getting started. We like where we're at, and it's going to be a fun one.

"They were up 3-1 last year and they lost it. We're looking to do the same thing that happened last year. We could easily be up 3-2. But with Kersh and then Ryu going the next two games, we like where we're at."

On the flip side, Wacha, asked if he lived for a moment like starting Game 6 of a Championship Series, responded:

"Obviously. Every player on this team does. This is a fun time of the season. It's going to be fun for sure."

And the Busch Stadium edge also appealed to Wacha.

"It's huge having home-field advantage," he said on Thursday. "It's great playing back here in front of these great fans. I feel like it will be fun. It was a lot more fun pitching at home than it was pitching in Pittsburgh [in the Division Series] that's for sure. I'm really looking forward to the big crowd out there and the energy around the ballpark."

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had a wide-ranging take on his club's new-found popularity.

"I think if you look at it now we've kind of become America's team because everyone wants to see a seventh game," Mattingly said. "Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure that everybody's for us to win on Friday night. So obviously it's a pretty good feeling with Clayton pitching on Friday."

It is not clear whether that stuff about people in St. Louis wanting a seventh game has been scientifically tested. What we do know about this series is that conventional wisdom was defied when the Dodgers lost the first two games with their best pitchers, Zack Greinke and Kershaw.

Then again, the Cardinals weren't supposed to lose with Wainwright in Game 3. The Redbirds were clearly on the verge of complete triumph after Game 4, but then the Dodgers were revived with a big-time performance in Game 5.

The plot has twisted, the storyline has shifted, but now, a compelling conclusion beckons.

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