ST. LOUIS -- When Clayton Kershaw spoke of Michael Wacha, he sounded like a king relinquishing his crown for a day.
"You have to give a lot of credit to Wacha. He pitched better than I did," Kershaw said after he and the Los Angeles Dodgers fell, 1-0, to Wacha's St. Louis Cardinals in Saturday's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series. "That's the bottom line. He was impressive."
So was Kershaw, who surrendered just an unearned run and two hits in six innings. He joined Burt Hooton (1981 World Series, Game 2) as the franchise's only pitchers to lose a postseason game while working that many innings and yielding no earned runs and four or fewer hits.
Yet Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner and the NL's odds-on favorite to capture the honor again this year, felt compelled to bow to his St. Louis counterpart, who made just his 11th Major League start.
Though it was a graceful act by Kershaw, it also reflected how the Dodgers have been humbled thus far. They anticipated that using Zack Greinke and Kershaw in the series' first two games would enable them to emerge with nothing worse than a split. The duo met expectations by combining to allow six hits and two earned runs in 14 innings. Their excellence didn't prevent the Dodgers from falling behind, 2-0, in the series.
"I'm disappointed that we wasted those two starts," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Kershaw was on his way to delivering another typically classic effort. He had thrown only 72 pitches when Dodgers manager Don Mattingly lifted him for pinch-hitter Michael Young with Nick Punto on first base and two outs in the seventh inning. Facing reliever Kevin Siegrist, Young popped up.
"It wasn't any fun taking him out, honestly, the way he was pitching," Mattingly said. "But I think it was our last chance. We had to get a guy in scoring position, and our bullpen did a nice job."
Kershaw registered no disappointment.
"I always want to stay in the game," he said. "But I understand where Donnie's coming from. I get it -- we can't give up any more outs, and Michael Young's one of the best players of the last 10 years."
Kershaw's lone lapse occurred in the fifth, which David Freese christened with a ground-rule double. He advanced to third base on Ellis' passed ball.
"It was a ball right down the middle. I just missed it," Ellis said.
Freese scored on Jon Jay's sacrifice fly, which wasn't hit particularly deep. But left fielder Carl Crawford could not unleash a powerful throw home.
Again, Kershaw was effusive with praise for an opponent.
"He did a great job getting that ball in the air," Kershaw said of the 1-2 slider Jay hit. "Getting ahead of him, I was trying to get him to punchout."
Besides providing his usual stubborn pitching, Kershaw also singled to launch the Dodgers' sixth-inning threat, which crested when they loaded the bases with one out. Wacha responded by striking out Yasiel Puig and Juan Uribe.
Moments earlier, Kershaw moved from first to third on second baseman Matt Carpenter's throwing error. Carpenter tried to force out Kershaw at second base, but the throw veered wide. Kershaw didn't consider trying to score on the play.
"I couldn't really see the ball, because it was behind me," he said. "I was running not very fast, but as hard as I could. Wally [third-base coach Tim Wallach] held me up."
The Dodgers hope that nothing else stops them as the series moves to Los Angeles. Kershaw probably won't pitch again unless the Dodgers force a Game 6 in St. Louis next Friday.
Said Kershaw, "I think we'll take it for what it is. We lost two here. It's not the end of the world, but it's definitely not a good thing. We'll go back home, have a good off-day [Sunday], try to make some adjustments and get ready to go."