Los Angeles Dodgers' Milton Bradley (21) steals second base as St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Tony Womack waits for the late throw, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2004, in Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
LOS ANGELES Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals sure looked like the best team in baseball.
St. Louis advanced to the NL championship series for the third time in five years, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 Sunday night to win their first-round playoff 3-1.
Jeff Suppan settled down after a shaky start, Pujols hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off loser Wilson Alvarez in the fourth inning and the Cardinals kept the Dodgers searching for their first postseason series victory since winning the 1988 World Series.
After Jason Isringhausen struck out Alex Cora to end the game, members of both teams met in the middle of the field and shook hands, and the fans stood and applauded. While common at the end of playoff series in the NHL, it's a rarity in baseball it happened after Minnesota's 10-inning win over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
St. Louis, a major league-best 105-57 during the regular season, starts the NLCS at home Wednesday against the winner of Monday night's fifth game between Atlanta and Houston. The Cardinals are trying to become the first team with the top regular-season record to win the World Series since the 1998 New York Yankees.
As Pujols' towering fly ball sailed just over left fielder Jayson Werth into the lower left-field stands, the raucous crowd of 56,268 the largest in Dodger Stadium history went silent. Pujols, one of baseball's best hitters, delivered on a 3-1 pitch for his second homer of the series.
Scott Rolen, the on-deck hitter, went 0-for-12 in the series, grounding out following the homer.
Suppan, who went 10-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 14 road starts this season, allowed two hits in seven innings and also gave himself some unexpected support at the plate he singled twice in three at-bats after going 4-of-57 during the season.
Werth, the second batter Suppan faced, homered to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. The Cardinals tied it in the second off Odalis Perez on a homer by Reggie Sanders one pitch after Jim Edmonds was thrown out stealing.
St. Louis got another run in the third, when Perez was chased after two walks a one-out, RBI single by Edgar Renteria. Alvarez relieved and struck out Edmonds and Sanders.
Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly tied it 2-all in the fourth, but the Dodgers had only two more runners Cesar Izturis got a one-out infield single in the eighth, and Milton Bradley drew a two-out walk in the ninth.
Perez gave up three hits and five walks in 2 1-3 innings, but only two runs as the Cardinals stranded five and had a runner thrown out stealing.
Pujols added a run for the Cardinals with an RBI single in the seventh.
Notes: Werth's homer was the Dodgers' seventh against St. Louis their most in a playoff series since they hit eight in the 1978 NL championship series. ... The Cardinals ran into an out in the fourth after what appeared to be a bad call, but it wound up making no difference. Suppan singled with one out and Tony Womack followed with a liner to right that Bradley appeared to catch. But as second base umpire Brian O'Nora signaled safe, Suppan headed back to first and was forced at second. Pujols homered later in the inning. ... Pujols made a terrific fielding play as well, diving to knock down Cora's hard grounder, scrambling to his feet and beating Cora to first base.
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