LOS ANGELES — Despite a breathtaking ninth-inning rally, the St. Louis Cardinals fanned on their first chance to close out the N.L. Championship Series for the second straight season.
Just like last October, they’ve got two more tension-filled shots at it.
But at least this year, they’ll be in St. Louis.
Zack Greinke overcame the Cardinals’ early rallies to pitch seven dominant innings in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 6-4 victory over St. Louis in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Plans for yet another World Series at Busch Stadium must be shelved for two more days after Greinke and Brian Wilson combined to retire 16 straight Cardinals. St. Louis rallied for two runs and four hits in the ninth against closer Kenley Jansen, but it was too late to avoid Game 6 on Friday night.
Jansen gave up Matt Holliday’s bloop double to lead off the ninth, and St. Louis strung together singles from Matt Adams, Jon Jay and Pete Kozma. But Jansen struck out pinch-hitter Adron Chambers with the tying run on first base to wrap it up.
The 2011 World Series champions clearly know how to close out a series, but anxious Cards fans could be forgiven for seeing a few echoes of last season’s NLCS struggles in this punchless performance before that ninth-inning madness.
The Cardinals also had a 3-1 series lead on San Francisco in the NLCS last season, but they scored just one total run while losing the final three games, dropping the last two at the Giants’ waterfront ballpark in a spectacular offensive collapse.
St. Louis has already quadrupled its run total from those three games last October, but the Cards’ bats were ominously silent between Yadier Molina’s second rally-killing, double-play grounder in the third inning and that rally in the ninth.
After the Cardinals took a 3-1 series lead in Game 4, Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto claimed the pressure rested squarely on the Cardinals in Game 5. Whether or not the Cardinals agreed, the Dodgers appeared to be looser on a sun-splashed afternoon in Chavez Ravine — until the ninth, when Jansen barely escaped.
Despite the Cardinals’ 3-2 series lead heading home, their offense has struggled in the NLCS. St. Louis batted just .148 and scored only eight runs in the first four games against Los Angeles even while winning three of four.
Matt Carpenter and Holliday both had hits in their first two trips to the plate against Greinke, but nobody else got into a groove.
The biggest offender was the slow-footed Molina, but nobody in the lineup did enough to counteract the Dodgers’ four homers off Joe Kelly and St. Louis’ normally reliable bullpen.
Kelly repeatedly avoided trouble in the series opener against Greinke, persevering through three rough innings and leaving a quality start with the score tied.
The Southern California native couldn’t get away with it in Game 5, giving up two runs in a four-hit Dodgers rally in the second before solo shots by Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, who put a 96-mph fastball deep into the right field stands an estimated 447 feet away.
Kelly made it through just five innings, giving up seven hits and four runs. St. Louis had held the Dodgers without a homer in the first four games of the series.
The St. Louis hitters had a bit of early life against Greinke, producing six hits in the first three innings.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with their first three batters on two bloop singles and a walk, but Greinke escaped unscathed with a strikeout of Adams and a double-play grounder from Molina. St. Louis then put together four hits in a row in the third, including Carlos Beltran’s first postseason triple, and produced two runs to tie it.
But the second double-play groundout from Molina stranded two more runners, and the Cardinals’ offense was done until the ninth.