ST. LOUIS -- As much as the Los Angeles Dodgers want to pretend this series was just another series, and the end of a long two-city, eight-game trip, it was more than that.
The St. Louis Cardinals are not just any other team, and Busch Stadium has not been just any other ballpark for the Dodgers.
Thursday's 5-1 win gave the Dodgers only their second series win at Busch Stadium over the past decade. In fact, before Wednesday's 13-4 blowout win, the Dodgers were just 9-24 over the past 10 seasons in St. Louis.
The Dodgers know they're a good team, but nothing drove home the fact that they are a legitimate World Series contender now more than their 3-1 series win over St. Louis this week.
"This is a good team," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said before the game. "We came into St. Louis knowing this is a good club over there. That's a team that's won a world championship a couple years ago and was one game away from getting there last year. We see their lineup. They're a team that hits with men in scoring position, they score runs and they have good, young position players. You don't come here and mess around or you get your butt beat."
Hyun-Jin Ryu claimed his 11th win of the season, pitching seven innings and giving up five hits and one run, while striking out seven. Ryu now has 22 strikeouts and one walk in his past three starts. Ryu made the start Thursday night with five days rest and is now 6-0 on the season with five days rest.
Adrian Gonzalez got things started in the third inning with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Carl Crawford. A.J. Ellis then homered to left to score Gonzalez and Andre Ethier. Jerry Hairston Jr. put the finishing touches on the win when he singled to center to score Ellis.
No one has benefited more from the trip than Crawford, who started the game 2-for-2 and was 13-for-31 (.419) with six singles and two doubles in the eight games.
Yasiel Puig, who batted .480 on the trip, was 3-for-5 and now has 26 multihit games this season, which places him second on the team despite playing in just 57 games.
Before the game, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp were working out and eyeing their returns, with Ramirez slated to come back next week and Kemp projected to come back this month. The question now is, Where will Kemp play if Puig, Crawford and Ethier are playing well and the Dodgers are winning with that trio in the outfield?
The Dodgers have now won 34 of their past 42 games, their best 42-game stretch since 1953, and have won 17 of their past 18 road games. They now head home for a three-game series at home against the Tampa Bay Rays with a 5½-game lead atop the NL West. Not bad for a team that was 12 games under .500 and in last place in their division on June 21.
"I don't think it's that complicated," Mattingly said. "We're getting good pitching. Our defense has been shored up. We were a bad defensive club for a while, which had a lot to do with playing guys all over the diamond, but we were able to put guys where they were supposed to be, our utility guys become utility guys and the extra guys become guys that play now and then. We just kind of got solid."