LOS ANGELES -- When Dodgers manager Don Mattingly arrived at the ballpark Wednesday morning, he sensed that nothing had changed with his high-priced stable of talent.
The players passed the time with card games. Others chose dominoes. Starting pitcher Zack Greinke spent the morning pestering teammates about trades that might pull his fantasy football team out of last place.
Despite facing elimination in the National League Championship Series, Mattingly figured his club was "fairly relaxed.'' And in a few hours, he was proven correct.
Greinke saved his team's season, holding down the Cardinals long enough for the Dodgers to muscle their way to a 6-4 victory that forced a Game 6 in St. Louis tomorrow night.
The Dodgers blasted four homers -- tying a club postseason record -- with two coming off the bat of Adrian Gonzalez. Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis also homered, fueling an outburst that came after the Dodgers had failed to go yard in the first three games of the NLCS.
"I think if you look at it, now we've kind of become America's team,'' Mattingly said. "Probably even the fans in St. Louis would like to see a seventh game, so I figure that everybody's rooting for us to win on Friday night.''
On the surface, it's a ludicrous notion, considering the massive checks the Dodgers wrote to assemble their cast of superstars. The idea is even more farfetched considering that the Cardinals are only a year removed from blowing a three-games-to-one lead in a stinging NLCS defeat to the Giants.
Yet, these Dodgers, while far from plucky underdogs, have shown the kind of resilience that has always carried mass appeal.
A few days ago, Ellis drew parallels to the regular season, when the Dodgers' underachieving lineup routinely squandered outstanding pitching. Mattingly nearly lost his job and his team languished in last place. The Dodgers had been written off. But as Ellis noted, they stormed back, mostly because their bats came to life.
In the NLCS, the Dodgers have started down a similar path.
"We knew that we have a team that can bounce back and do some pretty incredible things out here,'' said Gonzalez, whose towering solo shot in the third inning broke a 2-2 tie and put the Dodgers ahead for good.
Even with the loss, the Cardinals still have breathing room. Although they must face the National League's top pitcher, lefthander Clayton Kershaw, in Game 6, the series shifts back to friendly territory, Busch Stadium.
Still, that leeway could erode quickly if they don't straighten out what has been a feeble offense that has hit only .178 in the series.
The Cardinals pieced together a ninth-inning rally off closer Kenley Jansen, cutting the Dodgers' lead from four runs to two. Matt Adams singled home Matt Holliday, who led off with a double when rightfielder Yasiel Puig lost his shallow fly ball in the sun. With two outs, Pete Kozma lofted a run-scoring single to rightfield that trimmed the lead to two. But Jansen settled himself, bouncing back to strike out pinch hitter Adron Chambers.
But in reality, the Cardinals' best chance to close out the series had already passed hours earlier, when they had Greinke on the ropes in the first inning.
With the help of a fly ball lost in the sun, the Cardinals loaded the bases against Greinke, silencing fans that barely had settled into their seats. But Greinke squashed the threat, getting Yadier Molina to bounce into a critical double play.
Though Greinke allowed two runs in the third, the righthander slammed on the brakes, retiring 13 in a row before he was lifted in the seventh for a pinch hitter. It proved to be enough to extend the season, an important development on two fronts.
Greinke placed a $10 bet that he would pull his fantasy football team out of the cellar by season's end.
"So I needed [the season] to go to Sunday for that,'' said a smiling Greinke, much to the relief of the Dodgers, who still have a chance of rallying from last place to collect on a $230 million bet of their own.