Cards hope to finish off Dodgers and advance to World Series

( - Things haven't gone as planned for the St. Louis Cardinals the other two times they've held a 3-1 advantage in the National League Championship Series.

St. Louis was in this exact position a year ago only to see the San Francisco Giants rally back and win the next three games. The same thing happened to the Cardinals in 1996 when Atlanta stormed back to win the series.

In fact, the Cardinals were miserable in those six games and were outscored, 52-2.

"Just because you're up 3-1 doesn't mean anything. Nobody's going to roll over for you," said Daniel Descalso, who kick-started St. Louis' key three-run third inning in Tuesday's 4-2 win. "That's a good ballclub they've got over there, and they're going to keep fighting. We can't relax. We've got to keep pushing, keep grinding. You don't want to have that feeling again of being up 3-1 and losing three games in a row."

They once again find themselves on the doorstep of a National League pennant and will try to close out the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday in Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium.

St. Louis moved to the brink of its 19th NL championship on Tuesday, as Shane Robinson hit an unlikely pinch-hit home run, Matt Holliday smacked a two-run shot and Lance Lynn pitched effectively into the sixth inning in the Cardinals' triumph.

Lynn (2-0) worked around six hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings and allowed just two runs to pick up his second win of the series to help the Cards go up 3-1 on the Dodgers and get one step closer to their second trip to the Fall Classic in three years and their fourth appearance since 2004.

The Dodgers are faced with a similar task and may have to play without star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who exited in the seventh inning after apparently aggravating his broken rib.

"He was having a little more trouble today. It got a little worse as the game went on," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Ramirez's condition while not committing on his status for Game 5. "We'll see where he goes tomorrow, if he's able to get loose and basically we are at the same spot."

Despite Ramirez's injury, Los Angeles had the tying run at home plate in the ninth, and were looking for more postseason magic on the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's infamous walk-off homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The dangerous Yasiel Puig, however, grounded into a rally-killing double play, and Trevor Rosenthal struck out Juan Uribe to close out the win.

Ricky Nolasco (0-1), in his first postseason start, was charged with three runs on three hits -- the most notable a mammoth home run off the bat of Holliday that cleared the bullpen beyond the left-field wall in the third inning.

It's almost amazing that St. Louis is in the position it is in considering it is only batting .148 through the first four games. The Cards' bullpen, though, has been tremendous and has set an LCS record with 14 scoreless innings.

Right-hander Joe Kelly will get the first crack at closing out the Dodgers. Kelly pitched six solid innings in the Cards' Game 1 win, but did not get a decision, as he allowed two runs and six hits in six innings.

"I just faced these guys, obviously," Kelly said. "That experience of seeing how these guys approach me is going to help. They know what I've got, and I know what they've got. It's just going to be about executing pitches, ultimately. There were a couple times this year where I faced teams back-to- back times. A good Pirates team I faced back-to-back times, five days later.

"It's just going to be all about making pitches. I'm not going to go out there and try to be a different kind of pitcher that I'm not. When you make good pitches, ultimately you'll be more successful than not."

Kelly, of course, was one of the best pitchers in baseball over the second half of the regular season, as he posted a 1.97 ERA after June 1, third among all major league pitchers, behind only Miami phenom Jose Fernandez (1.50) and the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.82).

A South California native, the 25-year-old Kelly has already appeared in nine postseason games and has pitched to a 3.60 ERA in those contests.

"You always have good energy going into the game," said Kelly, who was 5-1 with a 2.07 on the road this year. "But being through it, I was a part of it last year and this year. It should help a little bit."

Los Angeles, meanwhile, will turn to Zack Greinke, who is 0-1 this postseason with a 2.57 ERA. Greinke didn't get a decision either in Game 1 versus the Cards, but the former AL Cy Young Award winner allowed just two runs in eight innings.

"A lot of times, you'll have one good start and one bad start," Greinke said. "Or if you do bad, you'll probably do good the next time. If you do good, they're going to make an adjustment, and you've got to be faster than them at it."

Greinke, though, is 4-4 with a 5.81 ERA in 10 regular-season starts when pitching against a team for the second consecutive time.

The 29-year-old was dominant in his final 12 starts of the regular season, limiting opponents to a .204 batting average and posting a 0.93 WHIP. His 1.58 ERA during this stretch was the majors' second lowest, bested only by that of Kershaw (1.55).

"We feel strongly about the guys taking the mound the next two days," said Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford, referring to Greinke and Kershaw, who would start a potential sixth game.

The Dodgers were 4-3 against the Cardinals this season.