LOS ANGELES - The St. Louis Cardinals' message after Game 5 of the National League Championship Series was consistent: We're in a good spot, up 3-2 and going home for possibly two chances at clinching a berth in the World Series.
It may not be as advantageous a position as it may sound, especially considering their hitting woes.
NIGHTENGALE: Cardinals can't close out series
BOX SCORE: Dodgers 6, Cardinals 4
While the Los Angeles Dodgers' bats woke up with their first four home runs of the series in a 6-4 victory Wednesday that kept them alive, the St. Louis batters remained mostly silent until a ninth-inning insurgency that fell short.
And it was the team's leader and arguably its MVP, catcher Yadier Molina, who was the biggest culprit in squashing the Cardinals' early chances to take advantage of a wobbly Zack Greinke.
Molina bounced into rally-killing double plays twice in the first three innings, when St. Louis put seven runners on base but got only two across the plate. Molina also struck out twice and stranded six teammates altogether, a rare display of futility for a five-time All-Star who batted .373 with runners in scoring position during the season.
"I tried to be aggressive but I didn't swing at strikes. It was all my fault,'' Molina said. "They pitched us well. They pitched very well against me. I was a bit more aggressive and went out of the strike zone, swung at bad pitches.''
When the NLCS returns to Busch Stadium on Friday, the Cardinals are scheduled to face left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who have allowed them a grand total of one run - unearned - in 13 combined innings in the series.
The NL Central champs may have avoided such a fate if they hadn't let Greinke off the ropes. Once he escaped, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner chilled the St. Louis bats on a warm afternoon when the ball was flying, retiring the last 13 batters he faced.
It was pretty bumpy for him at first. The Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs in the opening inning and appeared ready to ride the momentum from Tuesday night's 4-2 win. But Greinke struck out cleanup hitter Matt Adams and induced a 5-3 double play from Molina to escape unscathed.
"If my at-bat changes, it could swing either way,'' said Adams, who missed a 77-mph curveball for strike three. "I chased a ball in the dirt. It was a bad pitch to swing at. I just didn't get the job done.''
Adams at least got an infield single in the third, when the Cardinals tied the game 2-2 on Carlos Beltran's RBI triple - which missed sailing over the center-field fence by about half a foot - and Matt Holliday's subsequent double.
But with runners at the corners and one out, Molina hit a little chopper to Greinke for an easy 1-4-3 double play.
To that point, Greinke had thrown 61 pitches and spent most of the time pitching from the stretch. He threw only 43 more pitches in completing seven innings and earning the win.
"We had the chance to make it a different game and unfortunately we didn't,'' Beltran said. "I think when pitchers get out of situations like that, they get more confident and feel like, if they didn't score here, I can find myself, do a good job and give my team a chance.''
Indeed, the Dodgers rode the four-homer outburst to a victory that gives them at least a fighting chance, especially considering how well their upcoming starters performed in their first outings of the series.
St. Louis has a 14-9 record since 2000 in potential postseason clinching games, but the specter of its collapse in the 2012 NLCS now starts to loom.
In Game 5 last year, the San Francisco Giants' Barry Zito turned the tables on the series by twirling a stunning 7 2/3 innings of six-hit ball in a 5-0 win. The Cardinals scored one run the rest of the series to become the first team ever to blow 3-1 leads in an LCS twice.
They did get a bit of a lift Wednesday by pouncing on Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen for two runs and having the potential tying run at first base in the ninth, which perhaps will help ignite an offense that's batting .178 in the series.
"We're OK. We have a one-game lead,'' Beltran said. "We weren't expecting to come here and have it be easy.''