- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 11, 2009

ST. LOUIS | Unemployed in August, a star in October. Once the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Vicente Padilla got out of the first inning, he slammed the door on the St. Louis Cardinals’ season.

The pitcher kept Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday quiet in a 5-1 victory Saturday night that gave Los Angeles a second straight trip to the National League Championship Series.

“Anytime you win a series, it’s good,” Casey Blake said. “But to sweep the Cardinals, it just doesn’t happen. I would have never guessed we would have swept them.”

Andre Ethier missed the cycle by a single, Manny Ramirez had three hits and two RBIs and the Dodgers didn’t need another St. Louis fielding blunder to sweep their NLDS opponent for a second straight season. Los Angeles scored all five runs with two outs.

Closer Jonathan Broxton struck out Rick Ankiel for the last out and pumped his fist as the Dodgers ran out to the mound to celebrate. They await the winner of the Philadelphia-Colorado series that is even at a game apiece.

Pujols and Holliday were a combined 2-for-8 with a late RBI for the Cardinals, who never regrouped after becoming the first National League team to clinch a division title. Counting the postseason, St. Louis was 1-9 after wrapping up the NL Central and was swept for the first time in the division series or NLCS play and only for the third time overall in the postseason.

This team and the 1928 team that got swept in the World Series by the New York Yankees are the only teams in franchise history to fail to win a game in the postseason.

“It’s hard to believe we’re thinking about next year,” outfielder Ryan Ludwick said. “It just seems a long way away.”

Pujols, 3-for-10 with an RBI and no extra-base hits in the series, left without speaking to reporters. Holliday was 2-for-12 with a solo homer.

“For some reason, our offense, we couldn’t get anything going,” Holliday said. “We had some good at-bats here or there, but as far as stringing anything together, we had a hard time.”

Padilla, designated for assignment by Texas in August, was 4-0 the final month with the Dodgers before shutting down the Cardinals on four hits in seven innings of his first career postseason appearance. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first inning he was dominant, retiring 19 of 21 hitters against a team he last faced in 2003.

“Big lineup,” Padilla said through an interpreter. “I just tried to make the pitches that I knew I was capable of throwing.”

The Dodgers were already up 3-0 in the third inning when starter Joel Pineiro dropped Pujols’ simple toss at first for an error on James Loney’s grounder for the lifeless Cardinals.

After his ninth-inning error cost the Cardinals Game 2, Holliday got a standing ovation before his first at-bat with two men on and one out in the first. Then he tapped out to the mound.

Over and over, he said he was touched by the ovation — even if it was a recruiting pitch for a player headed for free agency.

“Whatever it was, I’m appreciative of it,” Holliday said. “Obviously that was a hard pill for me to swallow, that ball. To get that kind of acknowledgement, I’m very appreciative.”

Ramirez, 1-for-8 in the first two games, gave the Dodgers the early lead with a two-out RBI double in the first.

“I was just trying to be more aggressive,” he said. “Anything on the plate, I was ready for.”

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