By Jenifer Langosch and Joshua Thornton
LOS ANGELES -- Activated off the disabled list to be the starting pitcher, Kenta Maeda's two-run RBI single in the fourth inning put the Dodgers on top for good in a 7-3 series-clinching win over the Cardinals on Thursday night.
Maeda's five-inning, 78-pitch night was backed by Chase Utley's first home run of the season and Chris Taylor's three hits and RBI. Hyun-Jin Ryu earned a four-inning save in his first Major League relief appearance, allowing two hits.
"Kenta starting off just left a pitch up to [Jedd Gyorko], a breaking ball that was barely fair," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said about Maeda's shaky first inning. "So, the first inning wasn't as bad, as indicative as he threw the baseball. For him to throw four scoreless after that shows he competed."
The Cardinals' Michael Wacha was handed a 3-0 lead in the first inning behind a Gyorko two-run double and a Yadier Molina RBI single, but he allowed a season-high six runs in four-plus innings, his first start of the year pitching fewer than six innings. It snapped a string of 11 consecutive quality starts by the Cardinals' rotation.
"They did a good job battling," said Wacha, whose ERA rose to 3.66. "Whenever I would get ahead, they would battle to get a full count, 2-2 [count]. They put up good at-bats, and in some of those cases, I wasn't able to finish them off."
The Dodgers improved to 27-20, won their sixth series of the season and improved to 17-8 at home. For the Cardinals, this marked their first series loss on the road since being swept by the Yankees on April 14-16.
"We needed to add on," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I like three [runs] in the first. When their pitcher hits a two-run almost-double, that's a hard one to come back from. … We had [Maeda] on the ropes a couple of times [and] kind of let him off the hook."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Dodgers' big fourth: During No. 8 hitter Yasiel Puig's at-bat in the fourth inning, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had Logan Forsythe in the on-deck circle, preparing to hit for Maeda. But after Puig's two-out RBI single cut the Cardinals' lead to one, Roberts allowed Maeda to bat, and he hit a two-run single that gave the Dodgers a 4-3 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"It tipped off my glove," Gyorko, the Cardinals' third baseman, said of Maeda's hit. "I was able to get a glove on it, but it was just out of reach. I tried. Got close to it. Just couldn't quite grab it."
Taylor's 4-star grab: Taylor made his second consecutive start in center field in place of the injured Joc Pederson, and Taylor didn't seem like he was unfamiliar to the outfield. Taylor, an infielder who made his outfield debut the night before, made a four-star catch in the seventh inning that prevented Cardinals leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler from getting on base. According to Statcast™, there was only a 44 percent catch probability, because Taylor had to cover 60 feet in 3.9 seconds.
"At that point, the way he was throwing the baseball and his pitch count, he was going to hit regardless. It was just more for me, just a little gamesmanship." -- Roberts, on having Forsythe on deck to potentially pinch hit for Maeda
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals: The Cardinals' rotation, which boasts MLB's lowest ERA, is about to be tested, as the team is set to open a three-game series against the Rockies at Coors Field on Friday. First pitch for the opener is scheduled for 7:40 p.m. CT. Carlos Martinez, who threw nine scoreless innings in his last start, will take the mound against Antonio Senzatela.
Dodgers: Dodgers welcome the Cubs for a three-game series on Friday at 7:10 p.m. PT, with Alex Wood, who is 1-2 with a 3.57 ERA in seven career appearances against Chicago, squaring off with Jake Arrieta.