LOS ANGELES — Inside the visitors clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, the Cardinals showered, donned their sports jackets and headed into the rush-hour traffic for the long trip home. There would be no partying on the way back to St. Louis Wednesday night.
Instead of a happy flight, the Cardinals would be left pondering a 6-4 loss that was sure to bring back unpleasant memories from last year. You remember. The Cardinals came within one win of that National League Championship Series only to lose three in a row and spend the World Series at home.
Here they go again?
This Game 5 loss to the Dodgers was as frustrating as the one last year, only for different reasons. The Cardinals weren’t frustrated by soft-tossing Barry Zito this time. This time they were left regretting three prime — and precious — scoring chances and bemoaning mistake pitches that resulted in four Dodgers home runs.
“Obviously, we didn’t want to do that,” said Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who grounded into rally-killing double plays in his first two at-bats. “We wanted to win, but it didn’t happen. We lost. We’re going to be ready to go on Friday.”
While the world around them will spend the next 48 hours reminding them of their 2012 collapse, the Cardinals will continue to focus forward, one game at a time. That has been manager Mike Matheny’s mantra from the first day of spring training.
So don’t expect the Cardinals to want to talk about last year’s failure. Right fielder Carlos Beltran was asked after the Cardinals lost Monday night if the team could learn anything from last year’s NLCS loss to the Giants.
“No,” said the man who rarely gives such short answers.
Asked again Thursday if there was something that could be taken from 2012 and he replied, “Not really.”
Clearly, he would rather avoid the topic. As the only player to lose three Game 7s in the NLCS and not reach the World Series, the 36-year-old Beltran has the most to lose of anyone on the Cardinals.
He isn’t likely to admit as much, though. He stood in front of his locker Wednesday and addressed the media with the same cool he did after the Cardinals’ victory in Game 4 on Tuesday.
“We’re OK, man,” he said. “We have the (3-2) lead. We weren’t expecting to come here and it be easy. That’s why they’re here. They’re a good ball club. Give credit to them.”
Give most of it to right-hander Zack Greinke and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The Cardinals were on the verge of busting the game open in the first inning when their first three hitters reached.
Greinke, however, slowed down, gathered himself and struck out Matt Adams with a curveball. Then he induced a grounder from Molina that third baseman Juan Uribe turned into a routine double play. Dodger Stadium turned real loud in a hurry.
“A momentum shift, no question,” Matheny said.
The Dodgers took control of the game in the third when starter Joe Kelly left a 96-mph fastball up and Gonzalez deposited it 428 feet into the right-field seats. Given a 3-2 lead, Greinke did not allow another base runner, finishing his day with two runs allowed in seven innings.
The Cardinals rallied in the ninth but pinch-hitter Adron Chambers, representing the go-ahead run, took a strike three (that appeared half a foot outside) from closer Kenley Jansen.
Yes, the Cardinals will be playing a Game 6 for a second consecutive year. This time, they will have to face lefty Clayton Kershaw, the probable NL Cy Young Award winner. Kershaw has lost his past four starts to St. Louis, though he pitched well in three of them.
The matchup for the potential Game 7 would be ace Adam Wainwright against lefty rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has beaten the Cardinals twice without allowing an earned run.
At least the Cardinals will be at home for this series finale. They also have rising star Michael Wacha scheduled to start Friday night.
“It’s always good playing at home,” Wacha said. “I’m sure we’ll have a pretty good crowd there and they’ll be cheering us on. It’s going to be fun, for sure.”
For one team, anyway.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.