This marks the fifth time the Los Angeles Dodgers will meet the St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason. Overall, the Cardinals lead their postseason matchups 11-8. Let’s take a look at how the rivalry has progressed, year by year.
1985 NL Championship Series
Three years before Orel Hershiser’s streak and Kirk Gibson’s walk-off, the Dodgers met the Cardinals in the NLCS. Led by a strong pitching staff and key contributors on offense such as Pedro Guerrero, Mike Scioscia and Mike Marshall, the Dodgers cruised to the postseason with 95 wins, the top mark in the National League West.
They were set to take on St. Louis, who won 101 games that year, and Willie McGee, who would go on to win the MVP. The series started off as well as the Dodgers could have imagined, as Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser opened up at Dodger Stadium with strong efforts, allowing just three runs in the first two games.
Los Angeles jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, then everything went awry as the scene shifted to St. Louis. In Game 3, Bob Welch got off to a rough start and came out of the game in the second inning.
Welch gave up four runs and the offense couldn’t overcome the deficit. Game 4 was much worse, as Jerry Reuss couldn’t get out of the second inning before allowing five runs. Rick Honeycutt relieved him, but allowed the next four batters to reach and another four to score, making it 9-0. Needless to say, the Dodgers couldn’t come back and the series was now tied.
Game 5 was crucial, as the Dodgers would return back to Los Angeles in either a do-or-die situation, or only needing one win to head to the World Series. They handed the ball to Fernando, who, like his predecessors, got off to a bad start. After walking the first two batters he faced, Tom Herr doubled them in, giving the Cards an early 2-0 lead. However, Dodgers’ third baseman Bill Madlock would tie the game with one swing of the bat in the fourth. The game would remain tied into the ninth inning, when Tom Niedenfuer would relieve Valenzuela, facing the top of St Louis’ lineup. After getting McGee to popout to third, he left a pitch over the plate to Ozzie Smith, who crushed it over the right field fence, sending the Cardinals home winners and giving them a key 3-2 edge in the series.
Game 6 was just as heartbreaking, with the Dodgers assuming an early 2-0 lead and leading 4-1 after six innings. In the seventh, Orel Hershiser allowed singles to three of the first four batters he faced, exiting with just a one run lead. Niedenfuer would come in and surrender a triple to Ozzie Smith, tying the game. In the bottom of the eighth, Mike Marshall hit a leadoff home run, giving the Dodgers a 5-4 lead, but it was short-lived. In the top of the ninth, an out away from forcing a decisive Game 7, with runners on second and third, Niedenfuer allowed a 3-run home run to Jack Clark, which would end the Dodgers’ playoff hopes that season.
The Cardinals went on to win the World Series that year, while the Dodgers had to wait three more seasons before reaching the postseason again.
From 1989 to 2003, the Dodgers made the postseason twice. In neither of those instances did the Dodgers win a single playoff game. So you could imagine the fans’ reaction on the second to last day of the season when, facing a potential tie in the standings with the Giants, Steve Finley hit a walk-off grand slam in Dodger Stadium to clinch a playoff berth for LA, its first since 1996. The Cardinals, meanwhile, had won an MLB-best 105 games and had a young first baseman by the name of Albert Pujols leading them on offense. No one expected the Dodgers to win this series, but something special would happen in LA, giving fans hope, if even for a moment.
The first two games had identical scores of 8-3. The Cardinals’ offense was too much for the Dodgers to handle. In Game 1, the Cardinals hit five home runs, including a pair from Larry Walker. The Dodgers’ starter, Odalis Perez, lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing six runs before being relieved by Elmer Dessens. In Game 2, it was the Dodgers’ turn to play longball, with Milton Bradley, Shawn Green and Jayson Werth all collecting solo shots. But St Louis’ offense came roaring back, scoring three runs in the second and another three in the fifth to take the lead for good.
That left the Dodgers heading back to Los Angeles with the simple goal of avoiding a sweep. They turned to veteran right-hander Jose Lima, whose infectious personality made him a fan favorite. It was “Lima Time” in LA for Game 3 and he made the most of it. The 31-year-old veteran scattered five hits, all singles, over a complete game shutout on just 109 pitches. The offense picked him up with seven hits, including two home runs from Shawn Green. It was the Dodgers’ first playoff win since they won the World Series in 1988. It was a truly special game, pitched by a truly special man.
The Cardinals would go on to win the series a game later, with Albert Pujols blasting an eventual game-winning three run homer. After the game, the Dodgers met the Cardinals on the field to shake their hands and join in celebration with their opponents. It was a unique moment in baseball.
Something was different this year. Sure, the Cardinals were just three years removed from a World Series victory, but the Dodgers had an identity as a team to be feared in the National League. One season prior, the Dodgers shocked the baseball world by acquiring Manny Ramirez, the Red Sox’ star outfielder known as much for his prolific bat as his playful and enigmatic personality. LA now had a dangerous offense and they showed it in the short, three game set against St Louis.
The Dodgers handed the ball to Randy Wolf for Game 1, not exactly your prototypical #1 starter. The lefty struggled out of the gate, allowing the first three batters of the game to reach. A pop fly single scored a run but that’s all the Cards would get in the early going. In the bottom of the first, it didn’t take long for the Dodgers to answer. After Rafael Furcal singled, Matt Kemp hit a home run to give the Dodgers the lead. In the third, Casey Blake would drive in Andre Ethier to give the Dodgers a 3-1 cushion. The Cardinals would score again in the fourth but the Dodgers continued to separate with runs in the fifth and sixth. Los Angeles would go on to win Game 1 by a score of 5-3.
In Game 2, the Dodgers handed the ball to an unproven, 21-year-old southpaw by the name of Clayton Kershaw. It was Clayton’s first full season in the majors and he had posted an impressive 2.79 ERA. He would pitch 6.2 strong innings, allowing just a pair of runs, but the offense couldn’t get going against Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. Waino would go eight innings before being relieved by lefty Trever Miller. After retiring Andre Ethier, Miller would be replaced by closer Ryan Franklin. Franklin got Manny Ramirez to fly out to center, leaving the Dodgers with just one more out to work with. Up came James Loney, who was hitless in three at bats. With a 2-2 count, Loney made solid contact and drove a ball into left that looked like it would be caught, but left fielder Matt Holliday misplayed it into a two-base error, giving the Dodgers a glimmer of hope. Loney was replaced by pinch-runner Juan Pierre and Casey Blake walked, bringing Ronnie Belliard up to the plate. The veteran craftily dropped a ball into center field, allowing Pierre to score and tying the game. A walk to Russell Martin would load the bases, bringing up Mark Loretta. With a strike on him, Loretta drove a single into center field, sending the Dodgers home with a dramatic, ninth inning, two out win.
Game 3 was far less dramatic, as the Dodgers scored in three of the first four innings, including a home run from Andre Ethier. Starter Vicente Padilla went seven shutout innings, followed by George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton to secure the game and the series. The Dodgers would lose to the Phillies in the NLCS for the second straight year.
The previous meeting between the two teams saw the Dodgers and Cardinals vie for a spot in the World Series. Would the Dodgers’ $200 million payroll triumph over the Cardinals’ corral of homegrown talent?
Game 1 started off with the biggest hit of the season for the Dodgers. It was Joe Kelly hitting Hanley Ramirez in the ribs on a 1-2 pitch in the first inning. Ramirez, who hit .345 in the regular season and a cool .500 in the NLDS, took a fastball to the ribs which resulted in a fracture and wasn’t the same for the rest of the series. Zack Greinke, starting in place of Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 4 of the NLDS on short rest, pitched a strong eight innings but the score was tied after nine. Brian Wilson, Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell chipped in with scoreless innings a piece before Chris Withrow took the mound. The hard-throwing righty worked a perfect 12th before allowing a single and a walk in the 13th. Don Mattingly went to his bullpen and brought in closer Kenley Jansen, but Carlos Beltran stroked a 3-1 pitch into right field to end the game and give the Cards an early one game lead.
Game 2 saw Kershaw return to the mound and allow just an unearned run on two hits through six innings. However, rookie Michael Wacha matched him pitch for pitch and ended up going 6.2 scoreless frames. The Dodgers squandered scoring chances, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The Cards’ pen held the lead and took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.
The series shifted back to Los Angeles for Game 3 and Hyun-jin Ryu was up to the challenge to play stopper. He outdueled St Louis’ ace Adam Wainwright, posting seven shutout innings before handing the ball over to Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen to get the Dodgers back in the series. However, Game 4 was started by deadline acquisition Ricky Nolasco, who surrendered an RBI double to Matt Carpenter and a two-run home run to Matt Holliday in the third inning. The Dodgers’ offense couldn’t mount a comeback and were facing elimination. Don Mattingly gave the ball back to Zack Greinke, who put up another strong effort and was picked up by his offense, touching Joe Kelly and company for six runs, including four homers (two by Adrian Gonzalez). This led to another showdown in St Louis between Kershaw and Wacha.
The Dodgers had to feel confident that Kershaw would keep their World Series hopes alive, going up against a rookie who’d been drafted just a year prior. However, it was the rookie who would pitch his team into the World Series, and Kershaw who would struggle. Clayton allowed four runs in the third inning and another three in the fifth inning before giving way to the bullpen. St Louis would tack on another pair to give them an insurmountable 9-0 lead on the way to their fourth World Series trip in the past nine seasons. They’d eventually lose to the Red Sox in six games.
And now, the two teams meet again. Will the Dodgers’ offense overpower the Cards like in 2009, or will St Louis’ pitching suffocate LA once again?