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Dodgers Flatline in Series Finale

Times Staff Writer

As proclamations go, all it lacked was parchment and a “hear ye.”

Manager Grady Little had made it clear: Albert Pujols was not going to beat the Dodgers again.

So they beat themselves with lackluster effort and mistakes of every stripe.

Not that Pujols didn’t do his part. He had four hits and three runs batted in, and the St. Louis Cardinals completed a four-game sweep with an 11-3 victory Sunday at Busch Stadium that dropped the Dodgers to .500.

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Besides pitching to Pujols when it wasn’t necessary, the Dodgers played poor defense and went meekly at the plate.

“We’re sloppy, and we’re getting killed,” pitcher Brad Penny said. “You saw it out there. We look flat.”

Penny (10-3) didn’t benefit from four days off since pitching two innings in the All-Star game, giving up six runs in five innings. Chris Duncan, who batted ahead of Pujols, had three singles in the first five innings. Yadier Molina doubled in the fourth and fifth.

“I get to face them five days from now [at Dodger Stadium], so I’ll be looking forward to that,” Penny said.

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Will his teammates exhibit the same determination?

“We need to come out with more enthusiasm,” Penny said. “We have to pick it up if we want to make the playoffs.”

Every team in the rapidly deteriorating National League West lost, so the Dodgers (46-46) are tied for second with the San Francisco Giants, 2 1/2 games behind the San Diego Padres. But achieving any postseason aspirations will take more exertion than the Dodgers displayed.

Asked what was missing from the team’s performance, veteran second baseman Jeff Kent said, “Probably a little bit of energy. With the teams I’ve been on that went deep into the playoffs, it’s a battle, it’s work, it’s a struggle.”

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Even if the Dodgers somehow reached the playoffs, what then? They are only 4-17 against teams that began play Sunday with a winning record, and 18-28 on the road.

“You have to put in effort,” Kent said. “I’m not questioning our effort, I’m saying that’s what it takes. We’re going to have to work at this.”

Nothing worked against Pujols. He rocked a curveball from Penny for a double with Duncan on second base in the first inning, singled with runners on first and second in the third and doubled with Duncan on second in the fifth, driving in a run with each hit to give him 82 runs batted in.

Pujols hurt the Dodgers in the first three games too. Although Little ordered him intentionally walked twice Saturday and basically said he would take the bat out of the slugger’s hands, the manager reconsidered because his stopper had the ball.

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“We had Brad Penny on the mound, and he’s had a great season,” Little said. “They got production throughout the lineup.”

The Cardinals added three runs in the seventh inning and two in the eighth against Odalis Perez, who had given up a game-winning home run to Pujols in the series opener.

The first batter he faced? Pujols, who dribbled the first pitch between Perez and Kent for a single. Third baseman Cesar Izturis let a ground ball clip off his glove with one out, and two soft singles and a forceout later, the Cardinals had three runs.

The scorekeeper initially charged Izturis with an error but changed the call, meaning the runs were earned. Perez gave up a two-run home run in the eighth to John Rodriguez, and after two innings his earned-run average rose to 7.19.

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In contrast to his poor-me outburst Thursday, he stayed positive.

“I threw good pitches,” Perez said. “There were plays we could have made and didn’t. That’s part of the game.”

The Dodgers had 11 hits but hit into double plays in three consecutive innings, the last two with left-handed reliever Tyler Johnson on the mound. All four Cardinals pitchers worked out of jams as the Dodgers wilted in the afternoon heat.

“We looked tired,” Penny said. “It’s hot, but there’s a lot of water in the dugout.”

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