But when Los Angeles scooted back in front for a third time on the night, the Cardinals had no time to counter. Instead, they were left to revisit many of the same shortcomings that have reappeared throughout the month. Los Angeles, on the other hand, joined Baltimore as the Majors' first 26-win teams.
"It's certainly not time to push the panic button," said Berkman, whose pinch-hit solo homer off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen briefly evened the game at 5. "We need to battle through this little stretch and get back to what we were doing in the early season when we were so successful."
That will start with the pitching collectively getting back on track.
So strong to open the season, Lance Lynn allowed a season high in hits (nine) and runs (four) during this six-inning outing. The bullpen surrendered two runs in less than three innings.
"We've gotten away, a little bit, from controlling counts on the mound," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's the bulk of the reason why we're working deep into pitch counts and behind in the count."
Command was an immediate issue for Salas, who had been better as of late. His recent stretch of improved appearances is why Matheny noted afterward that he "thought it was a great spot for him."
Also a factor was a lack of left-handed options. Lefty Marc Rzepczynski had already been used, as had right-hander Victor Marte, who's had success against left-handed batters. So with a switch-hitter and three straight left-handed swingers coming to the plate in the ninth, Matheny went with Salas, who left-handers had hit at a .364 clip this season.
Salas issued a leadoff walk to Elian Herrera, who had just five previous Major League plate appearances. Herrera moved to third on a one-out single.
"The way the outfielder was playing, he didn't want the ball in the gap," Herrera said. "So I knew I could get to third."
Matheny called for an intentional walk to load the bases, bringing up catcher A.J. Ellis. Ellis took four straight pitches outside the zone to draw the game-winning RBI.
"My mechanics were fine," Salas said through translator Jose Oquendo, the team's third-base coach. "I threw a fastball that I missed with, and I missed with some other pitches, too. I could have had some other pitches [be called] the other way, too."
The Cardinals were one out away from losing until Berkman delivered the second pinch-hit homer of his career. He hadn't started on Friday because of his 3-for-31 history against Dodgers starter Ted Lilly. But he picked an opportune time to deliver his first home run of 2012.
"That's why they run me up there, because I might accidently run into one," Berkman said. "It was a guy who throws hard, and I felt like that he was going to stay hard and he did."
That erased the lead the Dodgers took on James Loney's bloop two-out single off Rzepczynski in the seventh. Rzepczynski also allowed an infield single and walk in the inning. He lost a chance to get out of the inning when shortstop Rafael Furcal sailed a throw trying to complete an inning-ending double play.
Two batters later, Loney reached for Rzepczynski's 1-1 slider and dropped it into left.
"It seems like when we're making mistakes defensively," Matheny said, "it's really costing us."
All of the Cardinals' other offensive production was concentrated to the third inning. Using some assistance from the Dodgers, St. Louis scored four times in the frame.
Tyler Greene dropped a bunt single to lead off the inning and advanced to second on an errant pickoff throw by Ellis. That left first base open for Shane Robinson to take when he swung through a strike-three pitch that squirted away from Ellis.
Both advanced on a sacrifice bunt, and Greene scored on a sacrifice fly by Furcal. Matt Carpenter drove Robinson home with an RBI single, and Matt Holliday gave the Cardinals a 4-3 lead by blasting a 1-0 pitch into the left-field bleachers for his ninth home run of the year.
The two-out hits by Carpenter and Holliday came after Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly was ejected for arguing that Carpenter hadn't checked his swing on a two-strike pitch, as was called by third-base umpire Chad Fairchild. Having his at-bat extended, Carpenter capitalized.
All four runs off Lilly were unearned.
Lynn allowed just as many, though all earned.
"I was throwing the ball well the whole game," Lynn said. "They just hit the ball well. It's a good lineup. Maybe make a little better pitch here or there, but I was throwing the ball where I wanted to. They were just getting hits."
He was especially knocked around in the second when, with four consecutive hits, the Dodgers took a 3-0 lead. Los Angeles tied the game an inning later. By the end of the frame, Lynn's pitch count sat at 62.
Lynn needed just 41 pitches to get through the next three frames, all scoreless. He struck out four in a row at one point and ended his outing by retiring the last five batters he faced.
Carlos Beltran, though still looking somewhat limited in mobility, returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Monday and finished 2-for-4.