LOS ANGELES -- Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals sure looked like the best team in baseball.
St. Louis advanced to the National League Championship Series for the third time in five years, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-2, last night to win their first-round series, 3-1.
Jeff Suppan settled down after a shaky start, Pujols hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer off loser Wilson Alvarez in the fourth inning, and the Cardinals kept the Dodgers searching for their first postseason series victory since winning the 1988 World Series.
After Jason Isringhausen struck out Alex Cora to end the game, members of both teams met in the middle of the field and shook hands, and the fans stood and applauded..
"That's the first time I've seen a team doing that to the other ball club when they were the losing ball club, and I think that was very special," Pujols said.
"I think it was a professional show of class between two very classy organizations," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "To play this series the way it was played with the intensity it was played, it said a lot."
St. Louis, a major league-best 105-57 during the regular season, starts the NLCS at home Wednesday against the winner of tonight's fifth game between Atlanta and Houston. The Cardinals are trying to become the first team with the top regular-season record to win the World Series since the 1998 New York Yankees.
"We showed a lot of heart, just like they did," said Cardinals outfielder Larry Walker, who had two hits, walked twice, and scored three runs in the finale. "We have an opportunity, but we want to stay at an even keel -- except for this half-hour here when we can act like a bunch of fools."
Pujols had two hits, a walk, and drove in four runs. He went 5 for 15 with two homers in the series.
"Albert is a tremendous player, he does amazing things out there," Suppan said. "With him and everyone else, it's the best team I've been on."
As Pujols's towering fly ball sailed just over left fielder Jayson Werth into the lower left-field stands, the raucous crowd of 56,268 -- the largest in Dodger Stadium history -- went silent. Pujols, one of baseball's best hitters, delivered on a 3-1 pitch for his second homer of the series.
Scott Rolen, the on-deck hitter, went 0 for 12 in the series, grounding out following the homer.
Suppan, who went 10-1 in 14 road starts this season, allowed two hits in seven innings and also gave himself some unexpected support at the plate -- he singled twice in three at-bats after going 4 for 57 during the season.
Werth, the second batter Suppan faced, homered to give Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. The Cardinals tied it in the second off Odalis Perez on a homer by Reggie Sanders one pitch after Jim Edmonds was thrown out stealing.
St. Louis got another run in the third, when Perez was chased after two walks and a one-out, RBI single by Edgar Renteria. Alvarez relieved and struck out Edmonds and Sanders.
Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly tied it, 2-2, in the fourth, but the Dodgers had only two more runners -- Cesar Izturis got a one-out infield single in the eighth, and Milton Bradley drew a two-out walk in the ninth.
Perez gave up three hits and five walks in 2 1/3 innings, but only two runs as the Cardinals stranded five and had a runner thrown out stealing.
Pujols added a run for the Cardinals with an RBI single in the seventh.
"They have a lot of weapons," Tracy said. "They're going to be a formidable opponent whoever they play against."