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Cards unable to seize early opportunity in Game 5

St. Louis loads bases with no outs in the first, but held off the board by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Right from the start of Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, it was clear that Dodgers starter Zack Greinke did not have his best stuff.

"I think he'd probably agree with the fact that he didn't have his best stuff today," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said after St. Louis lost, 6-4, to Los Angeles. "But the most elite in the game don't need their best stuff."

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The first three Cardinals hitters of the game reached base, and cleanup hitter Matt Adams walked to the plate with a chance to deliver a potential knockout blow. This was the kind of situation the Cards thrived in all year long. As a team, St. Louis hit .330 with runners in scoring position. How good was that? Well, the next-closest team was the Tigers, who hit .282 in those situations.

Adams jumped ahead of Greinke, 2-1, before fouling off a changeup. The Dodgers right-hander followed that with a curveball in the dirt, and Adams struck out swinging.

"It was down in the zone," Adams said. "It was one that I needed to recognize sooner and try to lay off."

That brought Yadier Molina to the plate, and the catcher, who hit .373 with runners in scoring position during the regular season, bounced into an inning-ending double play.

"We've been doing it all year long," Molina said of hitting in the clutch. "And today we didn't do the job. I didn't do the job today, so it was a bad game for me."

It was just the first of nine innings, and the Cardinals would have other opportunities later, but when Greinke got out of the jam, the momentum clearly swung to the home dugout.

"I think the first inning was actually the biggest inning of the game," Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis said. "They load the bases with nobody out, and Zack gets out of it. In the field, you're thinking, 'All right, let's hold them to one run here.'"

Greinke was aware of just how much trouble he was facing in the first.

"It was huge," he said of getting out of the jam. "That was big. I was real nervous out there with that situation, and trying to make a good pitch and get Adams to chase, and get [Molina to hit] into a double play."

In the third, after the Dodgers had taken a 2-0 lead, the Cards once again had a chance to chase Greinke from the game. Carlos Beltran delivered an RBI triple, and Matt Holliday drove in Beltran with a double to tie the game. After Adams then singled, the Cardinals had runners on first and third with just one out. Molina, though, once again bounced into an inning-ending double play. On the day, Molina would go 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts, and he would leave six runners on base.

"I didn't swing at strikes," Molina said. "It was all my fault."

After Molina grounded into the third-inning double play, Greinke got locked in, as he set the Cards down in order from the fourth to the seventh before giving way to Brian Wilson, who tossed a perfect eighth.

When Holliday led off the ninth with a double, it snapped a streak of 17 in a row set down by Dodgers pitchers.

"I think what happened during the regular season was amazing, just to be able to come through as a team," Beltran said. "Today, there's no doubt we had some opportunities and we couldn't come through. And we had the perfect guys hitting -- the guys that have been hot for us all year long and the guys that have come through for us. We have to give credit, because one of the reasons why we're here is because those guys were able to come through for us all season long."

The Cardinals did manage to put together a two-run ninth-inning rally against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, but it was too little, too late.

"We kept battling throughout the game," Adams said. "We never gave up."

Game 6 of the NLCS is Friday (7:30 p.m. CT on TBS). The Cards lead the best-of-seven series, 3-2.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Adams, Yadier Molina