October came early to Dodger Stadium.
The ballpark was packed. The crowd was buzzing. With few runs scoring, every pitch meant something.
The Dodgers' lead in the National League West over the Colorado Rockies was reduced to 3 1/2 games, their smallest margin since May 12. The third-place San Francisco Giants moved to within 4 1/2 games.
Manager Joe Torre called for calm, saying he didn't have any plans to say anything out of the ordinary before his team opens a four-game series against the Chicago Cubs today.
"I don't have to tell them anything," Torre said. "They're fine. I'm not concerned about their psyche right now."
This despite the loss being the eighth in 12 games for the Dodgers, who had a nine-game cushion in the standings as recently as July 25. The situation was already pressing enough at the start of the day that the Dodgers signed a pitcher with a questionable reputation in Vicente Padilla to bolster their ailing rotation.
The team that won 17 of its first 19 one-run games at home suddenly can't win any close contests, as it has dropped its last four one-run games.
Pujols stole second base and catcher Russell Martin's attempt to throw him out resulted in error that allowed the MVP favorite to take another base. Pujols scored the deciding run on a sacrifice fly by Matt Holliday.
But the Dodgers could at least console themselves with this thought: In a game in which almost everything went wrong, they had a chance to beat a team that has become a favorite to reach the World Series.
Clayton Kershaw lasted a mere 3 2/3 innings.
The Dodgers made a season-high three errors.
They were held hitless for 5 1/3 innings by Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, but tied the game at 2-2 in the seventh inning on solo home runs by Andre Ethier and Casey Blake.
"We're still moving forward," Rafael Furcal said. "We know we have a tremendous team."
Wainwright, who blanked the Dodgers over eight innings in St. Louis on July 28, held them to two runs over seven innings Wednesday.
Wainwright had a perfect game through four innings. The first Dodger to reach base was Manny Ramirez, who drew a leadoff walk in the fifth. Wainwright didn't lose his no-hitter until Orlando Hudson slapped a single to center with one out in the sixth inning.
For Kershaw, this wasn't one of those nights when he could flip forward the pages of the calendar with the snap of his left wrist and look like the pitcher the Dodgers say he will become. On this night, the 21-year-old kid looked like a 21-year-old kid.
He failed to complete five innings for the third time in four starts, this time unable to get out of the fourth.
He threw 97 pitches, only 60 of them for strikes.
Kershaw had a fever the previous day, but he said his health didn't affect his performance.
"That team, God, they fouled off pitch after pitch," he said. "There wasn't an easy out. Just a tough night."