ST. LOUIS - Unemployed in August, Vicente Padilla kept the Los Angeles Dodgers going in October.
The second-chance pitcher shut down Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals with a 5-1 victory Saturday night, putting the Dodgers back in the National League Championship Series.
“Anytime you win a series, it’s good,” third baseman Casey Blake said. “But to sweep the Cardinals, it just doesn’t happen. I would have never guessed we would have swept them.”
Andre Ethier missed the cycle by a single, Manny Ramirez had three hits and two RBI, and the Dodgers didn’t need help this time from another St. Louis fielding blunder to sweep the NL Central champions. Los Angeles scored all five runs with two outs.
Pujols and Matt Holliday were a combined 2-for-8 with a late RBI for the Cardinals, who never recharged after becoming the first NL team to clinch a division title this season. St. Louis was 1-9 after wrapping up the NL Central, and was swept for the first time in NL Division Series or NLCS play and only for the third time overall in the postseason.
“From the get-go, they beat us to the punch all night,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “So give them credit.”
Pujols, 3-for-10 with an RBI and no extra-base hits in the series, left Busch Stadium without speaking to reporters.
Closer Jonathan Broxton struck out Rick Ankiel for the last out and pumped his fist as the Dodgers ran out to the mound to celebrate becoming the first team to advance to the championship series. They await the winner of the Philadelphia-Colorado series that is even at a game apiece. The Phillies beat Los Angeles in the NLCS last season in five games.
Padilla, designated for assignment by the Rangers in early August, was 4-0 the final month with the Dodgers before shutting down the Cardinals on four hits over seven innings in his first career postseason appearance. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first inning he was dominant, retiring 19 of 21 hitters against a team he last faced in 2003.
“Big lineup,” Padilla said through an interpreter. “I just tried to make the pitches that I knew I capable of throwing.”
The Dodgers were already up 3-0 in the third inning when starter Joel Piñeiro dropped Pujols’ simple toss at first for an error on James Loney’s grounder for the lifeless Cardinals, who were beset by bad play this series.
Holliday, who dropped a fly ball for what would have been the final out of Game 2, got a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 47,296 before his first at-bat with two men on and one out in the first. Then he tapped out to the mound. Pfft.
Ramirez, 1-for-8 the first two games amid suggestions by manager Joe Torre that he was trying too hard, gave the Dodgers the early lead with a two-out RBI double in the first.
“I was just was trying to be more aggressive,” Ramirez said. “Anything on the plate, I was ready for.”
Ethier, who had only one homer in the last 12 games of the regular season, jumped on a 3-1 pitch for a two-run shot that made it 3-0 in the third. It was his second homer of the series.
“To show up now and contribute and be a main guy, it’s nice to come through,” Ethier said.
Ronnie Belliard singled to start the fourth, stole second and scored on Rafael Furcal’s single for a 4-0 cushion.
That was more than enough for the Dodgers, who were 2-5 against the Cardinals during the regular season with all the games played when St. Louis was its best.
Piñeiro, a 15-game winner and the last of the Cardinals’ big three starters to come up empty, allowed four runs in four innings in an outing that matched his shortest of the season. The sinkerball specialist allowed only 11 homers in the regular season, but surrendered five in his last three starts.
The Cardinals’ demise, though, was due to the failure of an offense beefed up with the acquisitions of Holliday, Mark DeRosa and Julio Lugo since late June. St. Louis was 4-for-30 (.133) with runners in scoring position against an underrated Dodgers pitching staff, totaling six runs and stranding 28 runners.
One of them, Yadier Molina, doubled with one out in the seventh and than ran into an easy out on a groundball in front of him.
Furcal, the Dodgers’ leadoff man, had two hits and was 7-for-12 in the series with two RBI. Ethier was 6-for-12 with three RBI after knocking in no runs in his first 37 career postseason at-bats.
John Smoltz struck out five in two innings. The Cardinals finally broke through on Pujols’ run-scoring single off Broxton in the eighth.
The Cardinals totaled three or fewer runs in 18 of their last 33 games. They fell to 6-2 in division series in 14 seasons under La Russa.
“I’ve ended playoffs 14 times this way,” Smoltz said. “It’s never easy. You always think you’re going to win the next game.”