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Cardinals eliminate Dodgers, advance

LOS ANGELES — Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals sure looked like the best team in baseball.

St. Louis advanced to the NL championship series for the third time in five years, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-2 Sunday night to win their first-round playoff 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 they won 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.

"I think it was good sportsmanship, and I was glad to be a part of it. It's great for the game," Suppan said.

While common at the end of playoff series in the NHL, teams shaking hands on the field after a series is a rarity in baseball — it happened after Minnesota's 10-inning win over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

"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 four RBIs drove in four runs. He went 5-of-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' 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.

"From the way he swung at that pitch, something tells me he didn't hit a strike," Tracy said.

Scott Rolen, the on-deck hitter, went 0-for-12 in the series. He grounded out following Pujols' homer.

Suppan, who went 10-1 with a 3.55 ERA 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-of-57 during the season.

"To have my family here today, it's just been a great experience," said Suppan, who grew up and lives in the area. "They're all supportive, and a little nervous. I told them to breathe a lot during the game."

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 a one-out, RBI single by Edgar Renteria. Alvarez relieved and struck out Edmonds and Sanders.

Adrian Beltre's sacrifice fly tied it 2-all 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."