"They are all tough at this point," Mattingly said. "We talk about playoff-style baseball. Momentum scrambles every day with the playoffs. If you win, you're feeling good. If you lose, it drops you because every game is important. You wake up and go again."
Stephen Fife was called on to fill in for Kershaw, and after a rocky first inning, he settled down and ended up striking out nine while allowing just two runs in five innings in his fourth big league start.
A two-run homer by Andre Ethier tied the game in the third, and Fife was dominant until being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the fifth.
"I was just a little hyped up to start," Fife said. "My rhythm wasn't all that there and I was trying to be a little too fine with my pitches. Second inning I slowed down a little bit."
The 25-year-old rookie said Josh Beckett, who now becomes the staff ace with Kershaw out indefinitely, approached him about trusting his fastball. After doing just that, things got easier for the righty, who admitted to feeling extra pressure replacing the reigning NL Cy Young winner.
With Fife out of the game after five, it became a long day for the Dodgers' bullpen, and a combination of seven relievers shut down the Cardinals until the 12th. Shawn Tolleson, Randy Choate, Jamey Wright, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League, Ronald Belisario and Matt Guerrier allowed only two hits and no runs from the sixth through the 11th innings.
But after eight innings passed since Ethier's homer without either team scoring, the Cardinals broke the tie in the 12th off Ely, who walked the leadoff batter, Matt Carpenter.
It looked like he might escape a jam when he got two strikes on Jon Jay with two outs, but Jay ripped a tiebreaking double to right, and Ely's inning only got worse. He intentionally walked Carlos Beltran, hit Matt Holliday with a pitch, gave up an RBI single to Allen Craig and walked Yadier Molina with the bases loaded.
"There is no excuse for giving up runs," said Ely, who made only his second appearance this season. "I've got to stay focused. I didn't feel like I was unfocused and I felt good going in. Just gotta get better at executing."
Ely was replaced by Josh Wall to end the inning, and Mattingly admitted he didn't know who would have pitched next if the game dragged on.
With Mattingly leaning toward a four-man rotation, the workload his bullpen logged Sunday and over the past couple of weeks is concerning. Yet, until the 12th inning, the bullpen had allowed only two runs in its last 25 2/3 innings.
"We had a tough time today," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "You look at the scoreboard and all those K's, we had a lot of strikeouts. We fought to get anything going, but fortunately it happened at the right time."
Closer Kenley Jansen, who has been sidelined with a recurrence of an irregular heartbeat, and Scott Elbert, on the disabled list with left elbow inflammation, are expected to return Tuesday to help the overworked 'pen.
For Jansen, not being able to pitch on Sunday was especially tough and he knows he could've helped.
"I don't want to say it, but that's how I feel," he said. "Your arm is not hurting, you just can't be out there. That is the toughest part. It's frustrating that you can't help them."
Mattingly may never have needed to dip that far into his bullpen with the Dodgers putting a baserunner on third with one out in the 10th.
Mark Ellis led off with a hit before moving to third on a sacrifice bunt and a wild pitch. With just one out, Shane Victorino grounded to second baseman Daniel Descalso, who caught Ellis in a rundown at home for the second out.
Then, in a move that would've been shocking just a few months ago, the Cardinals opted to intentionally walk Ethier to load the bases and bring up Matt Kemp, who has been in a slump. However, the strategy paid off when Kemp flied out to center to end the threat.
"Matt is going to be fine," said Mattingly about his slugger who is batting .095 in his last 10 games. "He's going to keep working and keep playing. His character is great so that part I know he's going to come out of it."
"We had a couple chances, but we didn't get that one big hit in the end like yesterday," Kemp said. "We turn the page and get ready for Washington."