LOS ANGELES -- When he was growing up near Anaheim, Joe Kelly was a fan of the A's and Angels. The Dodgers? Well, they were further down on the list. Like, all the way at the bottom.
Kelly now has an opportunity to do what he probably would have dreamed of doing when he was a kid: end the Dodgers' season. He will get the ball Wednesday afternoon as the Cardinals, who lead the National League Championship Series, 3-1, try to wrap up the best-of-seven series at Dodger Stadium (3 p.m. CT on TBS).
Kelly's desire to beat the Dodgers may have actually worked against him when he faced them for the first time on July 23, 2012, at Busch Stadium. He took the loss in that game after allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits while walking three in six innings. Kelly also fell at first base while trying to leg out an infield hit in that game.
"Being from Southern California, and I never really liked the Dodgers growing up," Kelly said after that game, "I maybe might have tried too hard on some pitches, and maybe that got to me. But I was trying to get on base and score runs, because this was one of those teams I looked at and I wanted to beat them. I was definitely trying my hardest up at the plate."
It seems Kelly has learned to control his emotions against the Dodgers this year. In a pair of outings against them, one as a starter and one as a reliever, he allowed three runs over 8 1/3 innings.
Key stat: 10 strikeouts over eight innings in Game 1
Key stat: Six innings of two-run ball in Game 1
At Dodger Stadium
2013: 14 GS, 8-2, 2.11 ERA Career: 15 GS, 9-2, 2.08 ERA
2013: 1 G, 0-0, 6.00 ERA Career: 1 GS (2 G), 0-0, 5.63 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA Career: 10 GS (12 G), 8-3, 3.10 ERA
2013: 1 GS (2 G), 1-0, 3.24 ERA Career: 3 GS (4 G), 1-1, 3.72 ERA
Loves to face: Carlos Beltran, 2-for-10, 3 K Hates to face: Matt Holliday, 9-for-29, 2 HR
Loves to face: A.J. Ellis, 1-for-11, 5 K Hates to face: Adrian Gonzalez, 5-for-9, 1 HR
Why he'll win: Tough to beat at Dodger Stadium
Why he'll win: Had better numbers this year on the road (5-1, 2.07 ERA) than at home (5-4, 3.29 ERA)
Pitcher beware: Cardinals led NL in runs scored in regular season
Pitcher beware: Most important start of his career
Bottom line: Build on success from Game 1 start
Bottom line: Don't let the crowd get into the game
Unlike the regular season, when Kelly had a large contingent of family and friends in attendance, Wednesday will be more subdued.
"I'll probably have a few family and friends, not like during the regular season," Kelly said. "But I'll have a good amount of people here supporting [me]."
Whether having seen the Dodgers last Friday will be an advantage for Kelly or the Dodgers remains to be seen. One thing that is certain is that he doesn't intend on changing his pitching style just to try to confuse the opposition.
"I just faced these guys, obviously," Kelly said. "That experience of seeing how these guys approach me is going to help. They know what I've got, and I know what they've got. It's just going to be about executing pitches, ultimately. There were a couple times this year where I faced teams back-to-back times. A good Pirates team I faced back-to-back times, five days later.
"It's just going to be all about making pitches. I'm not going to go out there and try to be a different kind of pitcher that I'm not. When you make good pitches, ultimately you'll be more successful than not."
At 25 years old, Kelly has already appeared in nine postseason games, including two as a starter. Kelly started Game 1 of the NLCS for the Cards and did not get a decision after allowing a pair of runs over six innings. St. Louis won the game, 3-2, in 13 innings.
"You always have good energy going into the game," Kelly said. "But being through it, I was a part of it last year and this year. It should help a little bit."
While a 3-1 lead is certainly an advantage, no one in the Cardinals' clubhouse is taking anything for granted, least of all Kelly. After all, he was part of last year's team that was up, 3-1, against the Giants in the NLCS before losing the final three games of the series.
"We know what's at stake," second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "We know how hard it is to get one more win. Anything can happen in a series, as we experienced last year. So we're going to be ready to go."
So will Kelly, ready to deliver a knockout blow to a team he didn't like as a kid.