LOS ANGELES -- When it was over, after Jason Isringhausen struck out Alex Cora to put the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship Series and
eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers, there was no immediate celebration by the winners and the losers didn't walk back to their clubhouse.
Instead, the Dodgers went out on the field to greet their conquerers and shake their hands.
"That's the first time I've seen a team doing that to the other ballclub when they were the losing ballclub, and I think that was very special," St.
Louis star Albert Pujols said.
Pujols homered and drove in four runs Sunday night in the Cardinals' 6-2 victory, giving them a 3-1 win in the first-round NL playoff series and
advancing them to a matchup with Atlanta or Houston starting Wednesday night in St. Louis.
"They're probably going to win the World Series," Dodgers closer Eric Gagne said. "We got beat by the world champions."
Not yet, but the Cardinals sure played like champions in advancing to the NLCS for the third time in five years, outscoring the Dodgers 22-12.
Jeff Suppan settled down after a shaky start to pitch seven strong innings and Pujols put the Cardinals ahead for good by hitting a tiebreaking
three-run homer off loser Wilson Alvarez in the fourth inning.
"I think it was good sportsmanship, and I was glad to be a part of it. It's great for the game," Suppan said after the handshakes were over.
"Everybody just wanted to go out there and just wish them luck," Dodgers star Adrian Beltre said.
While common at the end of playoff series in the NHL, teams shaking hands on the field after a series is a rarity in baseball -- it happened after
Minnesota's 10-inning win over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
"I think it was a professional show of class between two very classy organizations," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "To play this series the way it
was played with the intensity it was played, it said a lot."
St. Louis, a major league-best 105-57 during the regular season, is trying to become the first team with the top regular-season record to win the
World Series since the 1998 New York Yankees.
"We showed a lot of heart, just like they did," said Cardinals' outfielder Larry Walker, who had two hits, walked twice and scored three runs in the
finale. "We have an opportunity, but we want to stay at an even keel -- except for this half-hour here when we can act like a bunch of fools."
Pujols had two hits, a walk and four RBI drove in four runs. He went 5-of-15 with two homers in the series.
"Albert is a tremendous player, he does amazing things out there," Suppan said. "With him and everyone else, it's the best team I've been on."
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.
"From the way he swung at that pitch, something tells me he didn't hit a strike," Tracy said.
Scott Rolen, the on-deck hitter, went 0-for-12 in the series. He grounded out following Pujols' 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.
"To have my family here today, it's just been a great experience," said Suppan, who grew up in the area and lives in Granada Hills. "They're all
supportive, and a little nervous. I told them to breathe a lot during the game."
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.
"They have a lot of weapons," Tracy said. "They're going to be a formidable opponent whoever they play against."
Los Angeles has not won a postseason series since beating Oakland in the 1988 World Series.
"We got beat tonight by a better team," Dodgers first baseman Shawn Green said. "They're the best team we faced all year in both leagues. We did a lot
of great things this year."