The Dodgers had the Cardinals in their ballpark for four days. All they have to show for it is a split, which leaves them in the same position they were in when the defending World Series champions came to Los Angeles — a game behind St. Louis for the second NL wild-card berth.
John Ely, the ninth of a franchise-record 10 pitchers Dodgers manager Don Mattingly used in Sunday's 12-inning 5-2 loss, gave up a go-ahead RBI double to Jon Jay, a run-scoring groundout by Allen Craig and a bases-loaded walk to Yadier Molina after both bullpens battled on even terms from the from the seventh through 11th innings.
"They are all tough at this point," Mattingly said. "We talk about playoff-style baseball. Momentum scrambles every day with the playoffs. If you win, you're feeling good. If you lose, it drops you because every game is important. You wake up and go again."
The Dodgers and Cardinals both have 15 games remaining to settle the wild-card battle. St. Louis' next nine games are against the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, who are a combined 81 games under .500 and 69 1-2 games out of first place. Los Angeles embarks on a nine-game trip against East-leading Washington, Central-leading Cincinnati and San Diego before ending the regular season with a six-game homestand against Colorado and West-leading San Francisco.
"We've really been a pretty good road club until that last trip, and we're going to have our hands full again," Mattingly said. "Washington's leading their division, Cincinnati's leading their division, and San Diego's playing as well as anybody."
The Dodgers won six of the 11 meetings with St. Louis, and have beaten the Cardinals in consecutive season series for the first time since 1995-96. In case of a tie for the wild card, the Dodgers would get home-field advantage in a one-game playoff.
"We're just taking it one game at a time, and we've got a great chance of being there right at the end," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "We're going to be in every game and fight to the end, no matter who we play. We've got a tough road trip coming up, and we'll see what happens. We've got to turn the page and get ready for Washington."
Los Angeles wasted a leadoff double in the sixth by Kemp, who flied out to center field against Fernando Salas with the bases loaded to end the 10th after the right-hander walked Andre Ethier intentionally.
"I have all the respect for all their hitters," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But that particular situation set itself up to get us a little more freedom against Kemp because we didn't have to worry about righty against lefty. So it worked out well."
Ethier tied the score 2-all in the third with his 19th homer, getting the barrel of the bat on a 2-0 pitch that was low and inside and driving it into the pavilion seats in right-center with two out after a leadoff walk to Matt Treanor.
Stephen Fife, making his fourth major league start and first since Aug. 1 in place of injured Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, recorded his first six outs on strikeouts. But between the first and second ones, the Cardinals took a 2-0 lead as Craig hit an RBI double and Matt Holliday scored on a wild pitch to Molina.
Fife threw 88 pitches over five innings, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out nine — two more than he had in his other three outings combined.
"I was a little anxious, a little hyped up," the 25-year-old right-hander said. "Striking out the side in the first and second innings — I don't think I've done that this year. But obviously, Kershaw deserves to pitch. If he was at 80 percent, he'd probably be out there."
Ely (0-2) has allowed six runs, six hits and four walks in 2 2-3 innings since he was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque when the rosters were expanded on Sept. 1.
"There is no excuse for giving up runs," Ely said. "I've got to stay focused. I didn't feel like I was unfocused and I felt good going in. I've just got to get better at executing."
Rookie Shelby Miller (1-0) pitched one inning for his first major league victory. Jason Motte got three outs for his 35th save in 42 chances after giving up the tying and winning runs in Saturday night's 4-3 loss.
"If you have a bad day, you want to get back out there and move past the last outing. And I was able to do that today," Motte said. "After something like that, you have to have a short memory because you really don't have a choice. If you relive every pitch and every out over again every single day, you'll drive yourself insane. I just looked at the video yesterday after the game to see what I did and didn't do."
Jay finished the Cardinals' 2-5 trip 4 for 32 with two RBIs. He struck out his first three times up Sunday and was 0 for 5 before his clutch hit.
"You've got to stay positive, and that's what I tried to do all day," Jay said. "I tried not to let my other at-bats bother me. I was happy I got a chance to do something help the team and it worked out. He's got a good changeup, and I was just hoping he'd leave something out over the plate. He did, and I was able to capitalize on it.
"It was a long one and both teams fought hard," Jay added. "Everyone knows what's at stake right now and we've got our work cut out for us. Every game from here on out is our most important game. We've been there before, so we know what we've got to do. It's just a matter of doing it."
NOTES: Tim Wallach, who has spent the past two seasons as Dodgers 3B coach after spending the previous two years managing for their Triple-A Albuquerque club — and two years before that as Dodgers hitting coach — is hoping for a shot at his first big league managerial job once his contract expires at the end of the World Series. And the offseason is always good for at least a half-dozen openings. "That's what I want to do at some point," said Wallach, who played 17 seasons in the majors. "But as I've said before, I love where I'm at, I love who I'm working for and I love the staff I'm with. So if I don't get that opportunity, this is definitely where I want to be
. To be quite honest, I have no idea (if his stock has risen). I hope it has, but I think it would be better to ask other people that."