Wait 'Till Next Year

Midnight came for the Cinderella Dodgers and their magical season ended with the thump of Albert Pujols'homer landing in the short seats in left field, breaking a 2-2 tie. In front of 56,268 -- the largest Dodger crowd in the history of the stadium -- L.A. managed only Jayson Werth's solo home run in the first and Steve Finley's single in the third before the next 15 batters went quietly into the good night. Odalis Perez lasted only 2.1 innings, pitching himself out of the game with five walks.

St. Louis, who rang up 105 victories in the regular season, best in the majors, were obviously better than the Dodgers both on the mound and in the batter's box. They held Los Angeles to a .198 batting average and pummeled their staff for a 5.82 earned run average while hitting .254 and compiling a 3.09 ERA while winning three of four games.

However, the Dodgers did end an eight-year playoff dry spell, won their first division championship in nine seasons and celebrated their first playoff victory since the 1981 World Series.

The Dodgers energized the franchise with a record 53 comeback victories, including 26 in their final at-bat and winning the NL West with a seven-run explosion in the last of the ninth.

But the Cardinals were more balanced, with superior starting pitching and strong hitting throughout the batting order.

The Dodgers jumped to a 1-0 lead when Werth slugged a shot into the right-center field stand with one out in the first. St. Louis tied when Reggie Sanders banged a 1-2 pitch by Perez for a game-tying homer.

Edgar Renteria knocked in one of Perez's walks in the third and Manager Jim Tracy went immediately to Wilson Alvarez who avoided a complete disaster with a pair of strikeouts.

L.A. fought back in the last of the same inning when Werth walked, Finley singled him to third and Adrian Beltré knocked in his first run of the series with a long fly to right.

St. Louis put the game away in the fourth. Starting pitcher Jeff Suppan singled for his second hit of the game with one out and Tony Womack hit a liner to right field. Bradley raced in and made a sliding catch, losing the ball when he took it out of his glove to throw to first. Television showed it was certainly a catch but the Dodgers could get only one out on the play.

The umpires called it no catch and the Dodgers had only a force at second on the play. Larry Walker singled and Pujols caught a fastball over the plate and lofted it into the seats down the left field line for a crushing three-run homer.

Los Angeles never threatened again. Suppan retired them in order over the next four innings although Bradley got another bad call in the seventh. Leading off he smashed a ball off Suppan's glove and television clearly showed he beat the throw but for the second time the call went against him.

The Cardinals added a run in the seventh off Yhency Brazoban and Izturis beat out and infield hit in the eighth before the game ground to a close.

The Dodgers added a classy twist to the conclusion of a classy season, shaking hands with the Cardinals on the field and congratulating each other for a hard-fought series.. Manager Jim Tracy led the way, shaking hands with St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa as coaches and players followed and fans applauded wildly for both clubs.

The Dodgers fans who remained for the closing moment of the 2004 season were rewarded by players who turned to the stands to applaud them. They threw caps, batting gloves and wristbands into the stands. Eric Gagné even threw his special glasses to one of the fans

"It was a class act on the part of the Dodgers," Cardinal pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "Tracy led the way and his players saw him come out to congratulate Tony. Whatever feeling they had, they came out. It was a touch of class."

And with that feel-good moment, Cinderella's coach turned back into a pumpkin, the horses became mice and scampered away as the echo rang once again, as it has over the decades, "Wait 'til Next Year."

Dodger Blue Notes--Dodgers infielder Robin Ventura announced his retirement after the game, ending a 15-year career that included six Gold Gloves, two All-Star selections and four postseason appearances. Ventura, who had been reduced to a role player and a pinch-hitter deluxe, had been leaning toward retirement all season and decided late last week. Ventura batted .243 with five home runs in 28 RBI in 152 at-bats this season. ... Beltré's struggles continued in the final game, when he went 0 for 3 but finally drove in his first run in two weeks with a third-inning sacrifice fly. He went 4 for 15 in the series (.267) with no extra base hits. Alex Cora was in the lineup after being hit by a pitch on the right hand in the third inning of Game 3. ... For the series, the Dodgers went a collective 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position. Of the 12 runs they scored, seven of them came on solo homers: Green 3, Werth 2, Bradley and Wilson.

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