ST. LOUIS — The calendar said July, but the intensity Sunday night at Busch Stadium felt more like October.
In a game packed with action and drama, the Dodgers scored with two outs in the ninth to take a 4-3 victory and keep the Cardinals from sweeping the three-game series.
In addition to the last-inning excitement, the game featured a three-run rally by the Cardinals against the game’s hottest starter, at least four highlight plays on defense between the two teams, a mostly stellar showing by the St. Louis bullpen, and a Los Angeles team angered by its star shortstop being hit by two pitches, the first of which Clayton Kershaw avenged at the earliest opportunity.
Even though the Cardinals lost a chance to take over sole possession of first place in the NL Central, they were pleased with their play in their first series after the All-Star break.
"It was a great series for us," Matt Carpenter said. "For us to win two out of three and have their ace on the ropes, you gotta be happy with that. We certainly are. We’re playing good baseball right now. You’re seeing everybody contributing."
The Cardinals, who have won seven of their past 10 games, are off Monday before playing a two-game series against another hot team, the Tampa Bay Rays. St. Louis will start Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn. Rays ace David Price is not scheduled to pitch.
— Peter Bourjos. Talk about filling up a box score. Getting a rare start with a lefty going for the Dodgers, the fleet center fielder singled, stole two bases, made a run-saving catch and — believe it — hit a two-run homer off Kershaw to tie the game at 3 in the sixth.
"Bourjos is a weapon when he gets on the base," Cardinals second baseman Mark Ellis said. "His speed is dynamic. His play in center field is great. He’s one of those guys, you watch him and you just wait for that day where he’s going to explode and turn into a monster ballplayer. He’s inching his way closer to that."
— The LA-STL rivalry. It heated up in a hurry in the fourth. In the top of the inning, Carlos Martinez hit Hanley Ramirez on the left shoulder with a 97-mph fastball. Although no one believed it was intentional, Ramirez did not look pleased to be hit. Joe Kelly, remember, broke his ribs with a HBP in the first game of last year’s NLCS.
Kershaw wasted no time retaliating in the bottom of the inning when his first pitch plunked Matt Holliday right on the backside. A warning was issued to both sides and that appeared to be the end of it — almost. When the next batter, Jhonny Peralta, hit a double-play grounder to second, Holliday slid hard into second base, where Ramirez was there for the turn. Holliday jogged back to the dugout and Ramirez paid no attention to him. The LA shorstop, however, stopped to glove-tap Kershaw after the inning in a show of appreciation.
LA’s ire was raised again in the ninth when Ramirez again was hit by a pitch, this time on the left hand by a 99-mph fastball from Trevor Rosenthal. Although the score was tied and the count was 0-2 — not a time when someone is hit on purpose — Don Mattingly came out to discuss why Rosenthal was not ejected since warnings had been issued. The Cardinals like to attack Ramirez with fastballs up and in, but Rosenthal said "not that far in." X-rays on Ramirez’s hand were negative, the Dodgers said.
— Cardinals’ two-strike offense. They scored their first run when Allen Craig lined an 0-2 hanging curve to the center-field fence to bring home Peralta, who had reached on an infield single after falling behind in the count 0-2.
That was just the prelim for the sixth, though. Matt Carpenter — rekindling memories of his classic 11-pitch confrontation with Kershaw in Game 6 last year — fell behind 0-2, only to end up working a 10-pitch walk.
"In those situations, you have to fight like crazy and try to do a good job of battling," said Carpenter, admitting that he began thinking about last October’s at-bat as this one went on. "You really have to bear down in those situations because he’s got a lot of ways to put you away."
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Carpenter’s walk set the stage for Bourjos to tie the game with a home run into the center-field bleachers with, yes, two strikes.
— Trevor Rosenthal. After giving up a leadoff double to A.J. Ellis in the ninth, the Cardinals’ closer struck out the next two batters to almost send the game to the bottom of the ninth with the score 3-3. But after hitting Ramirez, Rosenthal gave up a run-scoring single to Adrian Gonzalez that made him the losing pitcher. Rosenthal was pitching for the third straight day but had thrown only 25 pitches total in the previous two.
— Carlos Martinez. He dominated the first when his fastball hit 100 mph and he retired the Dodgers in order and struck out three in the second, but also allowed a run on two hits. His night started to come apart when he walked Kershaw to lead off the third. He issued another walk with one out and, after Bourjos made a run-saving catch on Gonzalez, Martinez gave up back-to-back singles as both walks turned into runs. Martinez lasted only one more inning, giving up six hits and throwing 74 pitches as his ERA rose to 4.57.
— Home-field tiebreaker. If these teams face each other again this season, it will be in the playoffs. And if they need a tiebreaker to determine home-field advantage, the Dodgers will have it because their victory Sunday night gave them a 4-3 edge in the season series.