ST. LOUIS - Unemployed in August, Vicente Padilla kept the Dodgers going in October.
The second-chance pitcher shut down Albert Pujols and the Cardinals with a 5-1 victory Saturday night, putting Los Angeles back in the National League Championship Series.
"Any time you win a series it's good," Casey Blake said. "But to sweep the Cardinals, it just doesn't happen. I would have never guessed we would have swept them."
Andre Ethier missed the cycle by a single, Manny Ramirez had three hits and two RBIs, and the Dodgers didn't need help this time from another St. Louis fielding blunder to sweep their division series opponent for a second straight season. Los Angeles scored all five with two outs.
Pujols and Matt Holliday were a combined 2-for-8 with a late RBI for the Cardinals, who never recharged after becoming the first NL team to clinch its division. St. Louis was 1-9 after wrapping up the Central and was swept for the first time in the division series or NLCS, the third time overall in the postseason.
"From the get-go, they beat us to the punch all night," manager Tony La Russa said. "So give them credit."
Pujols, 3-for-10 with an RBI and no extra-base hits in the series, left Busch Stadium without speaking to reporters.
Closer Jonathan Broxton struck out Rick Ankiel for the last out and pumped his fist as the Dodgers ran to the mound to celebrate becoming the first team to advance to the championship series. They await the winner of the Phillies-Rockies series that is tied at 1. The Phillies beat Los Angeles in the NLCS last season in five games.
Padilla, designated for assignment by the Rangers in early August, was 4-0 the final month with the Dodgers before shutting down the Cardinals on four hits over seven innings in his first career postseason appearance. After escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first, he was dominant, retiring 19 of 21 hitters against a team he last faced in 2003.
"Big lineup," Padilla said through an interpreter. "I just tried to make the pitches that I knew I capable of throwing."
The Dodgers were already up 3-0 in the third inning when starter Joel Pineiro dropped Pujols' simple toss at first for an error on James Loney's grounder for the lifeless Cardinals, who were beset by bad plays this series.
Holliday, who dropped a fly ball for what would have been the final out of Game 2, got a standing ovation from a sellout crowd of 47,296 before his first at-bat with two men on and one out in the first. Then he tapped out to the mound.
Ramirez, only 1-for-8 the first two games amid suggestions by manager Joe Torre that he was trying too hard, gave the Dodgers the early lead with a two-out RBI double in the first.
"I was just trying to be more aggressive," Ramirez said. "Anything on the plate, I was ready for."
Ethier, who had one homer in the last 12 games of the regular season, jumped on a 3-and-1 pitch for a two-run shot that made it 3-0 in the third. It was his second homer of the series.
"To show up now and contribute and be a main guy, it's nice to come through," Ethier said.