LOS ANGELES - The Cardinals had reached this same plateau last October, holding a commanding lead against the Giants, needing just one more victory to reach the World Series. They had three chances. They blew them all.
One year later, St. Louis has earned itself a do-over.
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The Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 4-2, Tuesday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Cardinals hold a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The previously slumping Matt Holliday blasted a two-run homer, and light-hitting pinch hitter Shane Robinson added a timely solo shot in the seventh.
Given a two-run lead to protect, the Cardinals' flame-throwing bullpen silenced the Dodgers, getting two shutout innings from 22-year-old rookie Carlos Martinez before 23-year-old closer Trevor Rosenthal lit up the radar gun to slam the door in the ninth.
The Cardinals bullpen, short on experience but bursting with raw velocity, has allowed just one run in the series.
"They're good enough to pitch in the postseason and they seem like they're not cracking under the pressure," the Dodgers' Carl Crawford said. "They're getting the job done."
Only Game 5 starter Zack Greinke can save the Dodgers and their $230-million roster from becoming Hollywood's next big-budget flop.
The Dodgers had hoped to draw from their rich history to drum up enough magic to overwhelm the Cardinals.
On this field 25 years ago last night, a hobbled Kirk Gibson bashed a pinch-hit, walk-off homer off Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, setting up the Dodgers to beat the A's in the 1988 World Series.
But there would be no magic here, not this time.
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez had channeled Gibson by playing through a cracked rib. He started Game 3 but looked pained throughout Game 4. He struck out three times before he was pulled in the seventh, just another sign of the challenge facing the Dodgers.
"All day, a lot of pain," said Ramirez, the Dodgers' best hitter, who is far from a guarantee to play the rest of the way.
The series had been dominated by outstanding pitching. Entering Game 4, the teams had scored a total of nine runs, a record low for the first three games of the NLCS.
The Cardinals were hitting just .134 before breaking out.
Against Dodgers righty Ricky Nolasco, who hadn't started since Sept. 29, the Cardinals took a 3-0 lead in the third inning. Matt Carpenter lined a run-scoring double ahead of Holliday, who snapped his slump with a two-run shot that landed deep in the Dodgers' bullpen in left. Holliday had been 0-for-13 in the series.
In the seventh, the Cardinals got an insurance run from an even less likely source. Robinson had only five lifetime homers to his credit when he stunned lefty J.P. Howell with a drive that hit the top of the leftfield fence before bouncing into the stands.
"You've got guys from all over the place making an impact," said Rosenthal, who took on closing duties in September.
From there, the Cardinals' rookie-laden bullpen smothered the Dodgers, who had mounted a brief rally.
The Dodgers trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the fourth. Yasiel Puig brought the crowd to life with an RBI single, which came after he dusted himself off from a Lance Lynn pitch that ran up and in. Catcher A.J. Ellis followed with an RBI single.
But the Cardinals bullpen held off the Dodgers.
After Puig singled with one out in the sixth, Cardinals reliever Seth Maness got Juan Uribe to hit into a double play. In the seventh, Martinez picked off Ramirez's replacement Nick Punto, who had doubled to centerfield.
The final gasp came on a 98-mph fastball that Rosenthal blew past Uribe, putting the Cardinals on the brink of a pennant.
"If we start talking about where the series is, I think it's a distraction," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We've just got to play a game."