Sweep deal: Dodgers return to NLCS
Padilla quiets Cards, Ethier homers in Game 3 clincher
ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers bounced the Cardinals on Saturday night as quickly as they did the Cubs last year, with a three-game sweep, clinching the best-of-five National League Division Series with a 5-1 victory in a silenced Busch Stadium.
Now they advance to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series, opening at home Thursday against the winner of the snow-delayed Philadelphia-Colorado series.
There was a typically wild clinching celebration in the clubhouse. But having lost the NLCS a year ago, player comments this time made it clear they understand the first-round sweep is meaningless if they can't get to, and then win, the World Series.
"We've got unfinished business," said right fielder Andre Ethier, who provided the power Saturday night while Vicente Padilla provided the pitching. "We've got three wins. We need eight more."
Padilla, starting because of the neck injury to Hiroki Kuroda, fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball for the victory in his first postseason appearance of an 11-year career. Padilla, unbeaten since he became a Dodger in August, retired 17 of 18 at one point.
The Dodgers were powered -- as they've been all season -- by Ethier, who slugged his second home run of the series (a two-run shot in the third inning), tripled and doubled. Rafael Furcal had two hits, an RBI and scored a run. Manny Ramirez had a pair of doubles, a single and two RBIs.
"Now we've got to forget about tonight," said Furcal. "We know after last year, we have a lot of work to do. We have to play the next series just like we played this one."
Among other things, that means with clutch hitting. All of the Dodgers' runs in this game came with two outs, including the fourth and fifth runs that manager Joe Torre said "were killers for them."
"You've seen this ballclub play a little ragged and then all of a sudden we're playing a team that we're going to see if we measure up and we show up," Torre said. "And that's basically what happened here."
Furcal and Ethier went 6-for-12 in the series, Ramirez was 4-for-13.
Furcal had an impact series from his crucial leadoff spot in the order, continuing a late-season surge after roughly five frustrating months trying to rebound from last year's back surgery.
"I got hot at the right time," Furcal said. "All year it was a struggle. I know I'm not that kind of player. I knew if I could get on base two times, we could win every game. That team, they beat us five of seven. They throw two Cy Young pitchers at us. But people see we're a different team in the playoffs.
"And look at Manny. Everybody saying Manny's not the same. But Manny Ramirez is still one of the best hitters you've ever seen no matter how he did in the first two games. He showed that tonight."
The Dodgers were considered by many as underdogs in this series because they lost five of seven games to the Cardinals during the regular season and didn't seem to match up in starting pitching.
"The beautiful thing about the playoffs," said Game 1 starter Randy Wolf, "is that everything you do in the season, it doesn't matter. Everything starts new."
The Cardinals opened with their pair of NL Cy Young candidates, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. The Dodgers, after losing Kuroda, went with Wolf, 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw and Padilla, an August pickup after being dumped by the Rangers. Chad Billingsley, the team's leading winner, was dropped down to fourth starter.
"This game can be really weird," third baseman Casey Blake said. "I never would have guessed that we would have swept those guys."
The Cardinals, however, apparently never recovered from their shocking Game 2 giveaway loss Thursday night, committing errors in the field and on the bases.
"I think [Game 2 momentum] definitely did carry over, but the way we showed up there in that first inning and really set the tone and scored a run there and let these guys know that we're here to play and we're not just going to roll over because we're in a different environment, visiting environment, with the crowd and everything in it," said Ethier.
"I guess the way Padilla showed up and set the tone there, too, with the way he pitched, we showed them that we are ready to play. He did more than we asked him to do. I think the momentum from that Game 2 really stepped in there once we put a few runs on the board."
This was the first time the Dodgers have beaten the Cardinals in three postseason series, having lost the NLCS in 1985 and the NLDS in 2004. It was only the third time the Cardinals were swept in a postseason series.
The key for Dodgers pitchers was to contain Albert Pujols, the likely NL MVP. Although he went 2-for-4 with the lone RBI in this game, it was his only RBI in the series and he had no extra-base hits.
Hoping to take the rabid Cardinals crowd out of the equation early, the Dodgers got a run in the first inning off losing pitcher Joel Pineiro.
"Today from the get-go, they beat us to the punch all night, so give them credit," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "Congratulate the Dodgers. It was a [very good] series, so congratulations to them."
With one out in the first inning, Matt Kemp legged out a slow roller to shortstop Brendan Ryan, and one out later, Ramirez split the gap in left-center for an RBI double.
"You're not going to hold Manny down for long," said Ethier. "That's something we knew. It's our job for the guys around him to pick him up and be a teammate like we are and pick up the slack when he's not. And for him to get hot like he showed this last couple games means a lot. He's definitely still the heart of that lineup, which if guys produce in front of him or around him and score a lot of runs, we're going to win a lot of games with that happening."
Ethier really quieted the crowd with his third-inning blast to right field, 402 feet, coming one out after Furcal's one-out single for a 3-0 lead. Furcal drove in the Dodgers' fourth run with a two-out single in the fourth to cash in Ronnie Belliard's leadoff single.
The fifth Dodgers run came in the seventh inning off John Smoltz when Ethier tripled to center with two outs and was singled home by Ramirez.
George Sherrill got two outs in the eighth inning for the Dodgers, then Jonathan Broxton was brought in for the third time to face Pujols. Broxton finished the ninth, as Dodgers relievers pitched 9 2/3 innings in the series, allowing two runs while credited with two of the victories.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.