"Tonight had a playoff feel," manager Don Mattingly said. "Early in the game you could feel the energy in the stands and really even to the last out you felt the energy of a type of game that is hinging on one swing of the bat."
However, that one swing of the bat never came for the Dodgers, who have now lost seven of eight games since opening September with three straight wins.
The Dodgers have scored only 14 runs in their last eight games as the offense continues to squander solid pitching performances.
This time it was a Josh Beckett start, and the Dodgers are just 6-12 since the blockbuster with the Red Sox that brought him and slugger Adrian Gonzalez over.
For the second straight game, the team jumped out to an early first-inning lead on a double by Gonzalez that scored Mark Ellis.
However, just like Wednesday night, it would be eight more innings of missed opportunities and no runs for the Dodgers.
"The pitchers are doing their jobs," center fielder Matt Kemp said. "One run is not going to win games when we play teams like this. We've got to do a better job of scoring runs."
The Cardinals quickly tied the game in the second on three straight singles by Yadier Molina, Carlos Beltran and Skip Schumaker.
Beckett surrendered seven hits and two walks before being yanked after only 5 1/3 innings. While he got into trouble a few times, he allowed just the one run and he struck out six.
The righty left with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth, but Paco Rodriguez, who was drafted in June out of the University of Florida, got the next two batters out.
"I felt good, but I left a couple pitches up," Beckett said. "I've got to stay in the game longer. I can't leave 11 outs for the bullpen."
Rodriguez came back out in the seventh and walked the leadoff batter, pinch-hitter Shane Robinson. The rookie exited two batters later with two on and one out and he was replaced by Ronald Belisario, who gave up a two-out single to Allen Craig that spotted St. Louis a 2-1 lead.
With the way the Dodgers' offense has been performing, that slim lead was all the Cardinals needed.
"It was fun here tonight with the electricity in this stadium," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "It was like a playoff game. The fans were into it, and it was a great game. Obviously, afterward having the result go our way was huge."
Kemp said he noticed the same atmosphere both managers talked about, but said it is important to not worry about how other teams are doing.
The Pirates, Brewers, Phillies and D-backs are all within 2 1/2 games of the Dodgers in the Wild Card standings as the NL West is all but forgotten with the Giants leading that race by 7 1/2 games.
"It doesn't matter who we are facing from now until the end of the season," Kemp said. "It could be the Cardinals, it could be the Giants, it could be San Diego, it could be whoever. We've just got to take it one game at a time and right now it's the Cardinals. It just so happens they are right ahead of us and that's the team we have to beat right now."
The offense continued to frustrate and managed only six hits. The team had some chances, but a runner on second was stranded in the first, sixth and ninth innings and the Dodgers had two baserunners thrown out. Kemp was thrown out by Molina in the fourth and Dee Gordon, who pinch-ran for Luis Cruz, was caught trying to steal in the seventh.
Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Andre Ethier, who on paper created what was expected to be one of baseball's most feared lineups with a combined 13 All-Star games among them, have batted just .189 (10-for-53) in the last three games.
"We've got to get over that hump," Mattingly said. "I don't really know how to identify where that hump is, but I know we have to get over that thing and get ourselves rolling."