Cardinals 6, Dodgers 2

A towering, three-run home run by St. Louis's Albert Pujols with two outs in the fourth inning pushed the Cardinals past the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-2, Sunday night in the fourth and deciding game of the National League Division Series.

The Cardinals advanced to the NL Championship Series, where they will face the winner of Monday night's Game 5 between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros.

After the final out, the Dodgers and Cardinals milled about the field, exchanging handshakes, as the record Dodger Stadium crowd of 56,268 applauded. It was a show of sportsmanship that is rare in baseball.

"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."

Despite trailing in the series, two games to one, the Dodgers had hoped to ride the momentum of their Game 3 win here Saturday night, their first postseason victory since winning the 1988 World Series.

But the formidable Cardinals refused to be quieted two nights in a row, taking advantage of shaky starting pitching by Dodgers left-hander Odalis Perez, who issued five walks, gave up two runs and one home run in 21/3 innings.

The start was an opportunity for redemption for Perez, who was the Game 1 loser, giving up six runs, including three home runs, before being yanked early in the third inning of an 8-3 loss.

After Perez's early exit Sunday, St. Louis breezed through five more Los Angeles pitchers. Dodgers reliever Wilson Alvarez suffered the loss, giving up three runs on three hits in 12/3 innings.

"I can't tell you how proud of this club [I am]. The fact that we did everything we possibly could do in the course of this series," Tracy said. "We gave it everything we had."

The Cardinals, who had a league-leading 105 victories in the regular season, have made a habit of capitalizing on two-out scoring opportunities. They scored 16 runs in the series against the Dodgers with two outs. Sunday night was no different: Pujols's fourth-inning homer came with two outs.

A dropped fly ball by a diving Milton Bradley in the fourth put Tony Womack on first with two outs. Larry Walker singled to center to set up Pujols with runners on first and second and two outs. With a 2-1 count, Pujols came through with a lofty shot over the left field wall to put the Cardinals up 5-2.

St. Louis added a run in the seventh when Walker scored on Pujols's single to center to make it 6-2. Pujols went 2 for 4 on the night.

Outscored 16-7 in the first three games of the series, the Dodgers looked like a different team Sunday, jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a full-count home run to straightaway center by Jayson Werth.

But the lead was short-lived as the Cardinals' Reggie Sanders evened the score in the top of the second with a solo home run over the left field wall.

St. Louis added another run in the third when Edgar Renteria muscled a chopper past Dodgers shortstop Cesar Izturis to score Walker from second and give the Cardinals a 2-1 lead with one out and runners on first and second. The Dodgers pulled Perez in favor of Alvarez who temporarily halted the Cardinals offense, striking out Jim Edmonds and Sanders to end the inning.

Los Angeles pulled even in the third when Werth, who worked a walk from Cardinals pitcher Jeff Suppan, scored from third on a long fly out to right by Adrian Beltre.

But that was all the Dodgers' offense could manage as Suppan stifled batter after batter, refusing to give in to a team that had pulled out 53 comeback wins during the regular season.

"To have my family here today, it's just been a great experience," said Suppan, who grew up and lives in the area. "They're all supportive, and a little nervous. I told them to breathe a lot during the game."

Albert Pujols, who hit 46 regular season home runs, admires the flight of his two-out homer. St. Louis scored 16 runs in the series with two outs.