So much for that predicted pitchers' duel.
"I'm sure everybody in baseball was expecting a one-run game," Matt Carpenter said after his four-RBI performance. "We ended up getting one, but we didn't think it would be 10-9."
The win not only helped the Cardinals flip home-field advantage in the best-of-five series, but helped erase an Adam Wainwright start that was nearly as uncharacteristic as the one the Dodgers got from their soon-to-be three-time Cy Young Award winner. After a nearly four-hour heavyweight fight, the team's 33rd one-win victory of the season would be sealed with closer Trevor Rosenthal reaching 100 mph five times in a seven-pitch at-bat against Yasiel Puig.
Puig swung through the final fastball, stranding the potential tying run at third.
"This is one of the best," Yadier Molina said of where the victory ranked on the club's growing list of recent postseason wins. "[It's] right at the top. We're facing a good pitcher, one of the best. And to come back like that, it was huge."
Thirty-two of the previous 38 teams to go ahead, 1-0, in the NLDS have eventually prevailed in the series.
"I'm so proud of our team tonight," Wainwright said. "I couldn't be more proud to be a St. Louis Cardinal. I stunk, and those guys just completely picked me up. It was unbelievable."
To the delight of most of the 54,265 fans packed into Dodger Stadium, Wainwright endured the shortest start of his season and one of the worst of his career. In the duel between 20-game winners (the first since Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series), it left Kershaw with a 6-1 lead, seemingly an overabundance of support for a pitcher who had allowed more than three runs in an entire start just once this year.
A sixth-inning homer by Matt Carpenter halted a string of 14 straight retired by Kershaw, who had earlier been stung by a hanging 0-2 curveball that Randal Grichuk deposited into the stands in his first career postseason at-bat. It also provided a spark.
Hitless outside of the homers, the Cardinals suddenly found a way in the seventh, turning the inning into the team's most productive of the season.
"Everybody just kept saying, 'Let's see what happens,'" Matt Holliday said. "What other choice do we have? Baseball's a crazy game."
Showing shades of their 2013 self, the Cardinals ensured the game would drip with at least a bit more drama by knocking four straight singles off Kershaw to open the inning. That produced only one run, but did initiate some stirring in the Dodgers' bullpen. After an RBI single by Jon Jay and strikeout of pinch-hitter Oscar Taveras, Carpenter stood as the only thing standing in between Kershaw getting out of the inning with a two-run lead.
"Pretty easy decision," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of sticking with Kershaw at that moment. "Once he gets Taveras, I'm going to give him Carpenter."
Carpenter, the same man who frustrated Kershaw during an 11-pitch NL Championship Series at-bat last season to turn the tide of Game 6, drew himself out of an 0-2 count and into an eight-pitch battle on Friday that ended with a go-ahead, bases-clearing double.
"I can't tell you why I've been able to have some success against him," said Carpenter, now 9-for-28 against Kershaw. "I don't enjoy facing him. It's not a real comfortable at-bat, but you just have to try to battle and compete -- and it's the postseason, crazy things happen."
Carpenter would come around to score, too, as Holliday punctuated the 11-batter inning with a three-run homer off reliever Pedro Baez. The Cardinals, after not hitting with a runner in scoring position all night, went 5-for-7 in such spots in that inning. They took five consecutive at-bats with the bases loaded against Kershaw, who had faced only three batters with the bases full in his 27 regular-season starts.
"You look at the inning and it was just a real simple approach," Matheny said. "But this shouldn't surprise any of us, even though it's been tough at times to explain what has been going on throughout the long season with our offense."
In fairness, it is actually quite surprising. A Cardinals team that scored eight runs in a game just 13 times this season did it against a Dodgers ace who had allowed that many in his career only twice before.
Never before had Kershaw lost a game when backed by at least four runs of support. In Kershaw's last two postseason starts against the Cardinals, he's been pounded for 15 runs.
"In that inning, I left some fastballs up and over the middle of the plate, and they got good hits," said Kershaw, who brushed off speculation that he may have been tipping pitches. "It's what they do, they ride on momentum. They got a lot of guys on base."
Adrian Gonzalez's two-run blast off Randy Choate in the eighth pulled the Dodgers back within two, and Trevor Rosenthal coughed up another in the ninth before shutting down the Dodgers' final threat.
The comeback bailed out Wainwright, who had flashbacks to 2012, when he left his team in a six-run NLDS hole only to watch the offense peck away and eventually shock the Nationals in a win-or-go-home affair. On Friday, Wainwright looked more like the pitcher who spent August groping for command than the one who won all of his September starts and rolled into the postseason with a scoreless-innings streak of 21.
Pitching after a 10-day layoff, Wainwright maneuvered his way through a 21-pitch first and 23-pitch second (he stranded four in the two frames), and his control issues caught up to him in the third. Trouble started when Wainwright's 1-1 fastball got away from him and hit Puig, who was leading off the inning.
All that pre-series talk about the Dodgers and Cardinals moving forward from last postseason's shenanigans, which included Hanley Ramirez taking a Joe Kelly pitch to the ribs in Game 1 of the NLCS, seemed a far memory as Gonzalez came to the plate and immediately started jawing with Molina.
Both benches cleared, while Matheny dutifully restrained his starting catcher. Wainwright retired two straight after tempers cooled before consecutive RBI hits from Ramirez and Carl Crawford nudged the Dodgers in front.
"I think what woke them up was a lot of bad pitches," Wainwright said, downplaying the effect of the non-curricular activity. "My fastball command was awful. They realized I could not command my fastball, and they sat on slow stuff.''
It would be the first of three straight two-run innings for the Dodgers, who eventually knocked Wainwright out with A.J. Ellis' two-run homer in the fifth. The 4 1/3-inning start matched the shortest of Wainwright's season. He had allowed as many as six runs and 11 hits twice previously in his career.
Include it on the list of all that went as unexpected on Friday.
"Weird game," Molina concluded. "I can't explain it. We were looking like a 2-1 game. And it was 10-9. That's a weird game."