LOS ANGELES — Matt Holliday and pinch-hitter Shane Robinson connected for the first home runs of the N.L. championship series, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 Tuesday night to take a 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff.
In a series starved for offense, the Cardinals scored as many runs as they did in the first three games combined, when the teams totaled nine runs.
Game 5 is Wednesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, with the Cardinals one win from the World Series. Zack Greinke is set to start for Los Angeles against Joe Kelly.
Of course, St. Louis had a 3-1 lead in last year’s NLCS before dropping three straight to San Francisco, the eventual World Series champion.
It was a painful defeat for the Dodgers — in more ways than one. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, playing with a broken left rib, left in the middle of the sixth after striking out three times.
“It got worse as we went along,” manager Don Mattingly said.
St. Louis third baseman David Freese came out after six innings. He left Monday’s game with a cramp in his right calf.
Hitless in his previous 22 at-bats at Dodger Stadium, Holliday sent a two-run shot off Ricky Nolasco an estimated 426 feet to left field, capping a three-run third that gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead.
Seeking a second title in three years, St. Louis turned three important double plays and picked off a runner at second base in the seventh. Defensive standout Pete Kozma, inserted at shortstop in the sixth, started a difficult double play and darted in to complete the pickoff.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter also keyed St. Louis’ sharp work with the gloves, one night after some sloppy play was costly in a 3-0 defeat.
Carpenter had an RBI double in the third that scored David Descalso, who hit a leadoff single. Carpenter came around on Holliday’s homer after there were none in the first three games for the first time in NLCS history.
Carlos Martinez pitched two scoreless innings in relief of winner Lance Lynn. Trevor Rosenthal got three outs for his second save in the series.
After a leadoff single by Andre Ethier in the ninth, Yasiel Puig grounded into a double play. Juan Uribe struck out to end it, leaving the Dodgers on the brink of elimination.
Now, they’ll count on Greinke and ace Clayton Kershaw to pitch them back into the series.
“Kind of the best thought I have is, I’ve got one of the best pitchers in baseball pitching tomorrow,” Mattingly said. “If we come out here and play well tomorrow and get a win, I’ve probably got the best pitcher in baseball pitching the next day.”
Robinson’s home run bounced off the top of the wall in left field on a 1-0 pitch from J.P. Howell with one out in the seventh, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 4-2.
Lynn allowed two runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out five and walked three.
The right-hander lost his only other start this postseason, giving up five runs over 4 1-3 innings in Game 2 of the division series against Pittsburgh.
The Dodgers were down 4-2 in the seventh when Nick Punto doubled with one out. Martinez, however, picked off Punto before throwing another pitch and then retired Carl Crawford on an inning-ending groundout.
Trailing 3-2, the Dodgers put the potential tying run on base in the sixth when Puig singled to chase Lynn. Uribe grounded into a double play against Seth Maness to end the inning.
The Dodgers stuck with Nolasco as their starter even though he hadn’t pitched since Sept. 29. He struggled in his last three starts in September, giving up at least five earned runs in each.
Nolasco was passed over for his scheduled assignment in Game 4 of the division series, when the Dodgers chose to use Kershaw on three days’ rest for the first time in his career. Kershaw pitched well and took a no-decision in a 4-3 victory over Atlanta that clinched the series.
Before this one, Mattingly had said Nolasco was being put in a difficult position after not pitching for so long. Mattingly said Kershaw and Greinke both offered to start on short rest at Dodger Stadium.
Nolasco allowed three runs and three hits in four innings. He struck out four and walked one.
Los Angeles scored twice in the fourth to cut it to 3-2. Adrian Gonzalez hit a leadoff double and scored on Puig’s single. A.J. Ellis singled to drive in Andre Ethier, who walked.
But just when it appeared the Dodgers had grabbed the momentum, pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker bounced into an inning-ending double play.
St. Louis won a Game 4 on the road for the first time in NLCS play. … Nolasco, who is from nearby Corona and grew up a Dodgers fan, made the first postseason start of his career. … Schumaker was 3 for 21 with no RBIs as a pinch-hitter during the regular season, and struck out in his only other at-bat as a pinch-hitter in the postseason. … There was a pregame moment of silence for MLB umpire Wally Bell, who died Monday at 48. … Tuesday marked the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s famous pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth at Dodger Stadium, giving Los Angeles a 5-4 win over Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. … Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda, who at 86 is special adviser to the team chairman, tossed out a first pitch from midway between the mound and home plate that missed the target. Mattingly, who was catching, gave him a mulligan. Lasorda managed that 1988 team, the Dodgers’ last appearance in the World Series. … With the government partially shut down, there was a pregame flyover of vintage aircraft by a nonprofit organization founded by a group of World War II fighter pilots. … Among the famous faces in the crowd were Tom Cruise and Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad.”