LOS ANGELES - Adrian Gonzalez has shown over his career he can carry a ballclub. It's been a struggle finding the strength to lift up the Dodgers, but on Saturday he flexed his muscles and provided the necessary thump in the middle of the order to help pull them to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not that it came easy for the Dodgers, who nearly wasted a solid start by Ted Lilly with some shaky relief work only to conjure up a little magic in the form of Carl Crawford's legs and Mark Ellis' bat to pull out the win.
Gonzalez had three hits and three RBIs, blasting a deep RBI double to center field in the first, a sharp RBI single to center in the third and a long home run to right in the fifth to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
Lilly, making just his third start of the season while dealing with offseason shoulder surgery and a rib cage injury last month, was surprisingly sharp in his six-plus innings of work.
The veteran left-hander surrendered an unearned run in the first, but after that he settled down to retire 14 straight until issuing a one-out walk to Matt Holiday in the sixth inning.
That prompted Mattingly to lift Lilly in favor of Ronald Belisario, who began by getting Allen Craig to ground into a fielder's choice in which Holiday was thrown out at second.
But that's when the wheels fell off. Yadier Molina singled to center to put runners at first and second and David Freese doubled to score Craig to make the score 3-2.
The Dodgers put Jon Jay on with an intentional walk to load the bases, and Pete Kozma hit a hard liner up the third base line. Dodger third baseman Nick Punto made a diving stop, but couldn't collect himself in time to prevent Molina from scoring the tying run to make the score 3-3.
Paco Rodriguez relieved Belisario, and got pinch-hitter Matt Adams to pop out to end the inning -- and at least preserve the tie.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, Crawford reached first on an error by Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. Crawford raced home on Ellis' double to left field to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead.
The Dodgers tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when Juan Uribe doubled home Ellis to make it 5-3.
Meanwhile, three Dodgers relief pitchers limited the Cardinals to one run over the final four innings, with Brandon League picking up his sixth save with a scoreless ninth.
NOTES: Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez took batting practice on Friday and is eager to begin a minor-league rehab assignment. But the Dodgers are taking a cautious approach with Ramirez, who has played in just four of the Dodgers' first 47 games while dealing with thumb and hamstring injuries. Ramirez missed the first 25 games of the season recovering from a torn ligament in his right thumb suffered during the World Baseball Classic, then tweaked a hamstring after coming back. Needless to say, he's champing at the bit to come back. "After the (thumb) surgery, I came back early because I felt I could come back early," he said. "This is different. So I leave it up to them this time. I don't want to come back early, then go back for two months. When I try to come back, I want to go all the way to the end of the season." ... Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook, who suffered a setback in his quest to come back from an elbow injury, will consult with Dr. James Andrews early next week in hopes of getting more clarification. "Things still seem to be moving (how) we would expect," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But we'd like to get another look." ... Meanwhile, fellow pitcher Chris Carpenter, who hoped to face live Cardinals hitters next week as he works his way back from a shoulder injury, is applying some brakes on his recovery after a less than ideal reaction to his bullpen session on Thursday. Carpenter is not expected to face live batters next week and he will dial down the amount of pitches he throws in his bullpen sessions. "We're going to slow down a little. He's been working fast and the last outing he didn't feel as good," Matheny said. "For the first couple of times, It was like 'I feel great. I feel great.'" But that changed after Thursday's session. "We're going to back off from that 'live' situation and continue with the long toss and the bullpens." ... Cardinals starter John Gast lasted just one inning last Sunday before leaving in the second with tightness in his left shoulder. Gast gave up a run and one hit in his one inning of work -- the hit being a long RBI double by Adrian Gonzalez.
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