Instead, they were left to explain how two late leads got away in a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals Wednesday night, Albert Pujols' laser liner fooling center fielder Matt Kemp as it shot over his head for a walk-off hit in the bottom of the 15th inning.
"It stinks to lose a game you thought you had in the bag," catcher Russell Martin said.
For the first time since May 4, the Dodgers don't have the best record in baseball; they share it with the Yankees. And having avoided anything longer than a two-game losing streak until Tuesday night, the current slide is now twice that, and if the Dodgers don't win Thursday night, it will also mark the first time they've been swept in a four-game series in Missouri since 1987.
This one was painful, in part because the Dodgers did so many things well. From left fielder Ramirez robbing Brendan Ryan of extra bases with a running catch at the fence in the seventh inning to shortstop Rafael Furcal repeatedly making big defensive plays to the pressure relief work of Hong-Chih Kuo in only his second appearance off the disabled list.
For the second consecutive game, the Dodgers' offense outhit the Cardinals but also stranded 15 runners and has scored three runs in three games.
"You've got to play 27 outs, and we know that better than anybody, winning as many one-run games as we've won," manager Joe Torre said.
Closer Jonathan Broxton, asked to protect Kershaw's precarious one-run lead, got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth -- Pujols on a spectacular play up the middle by Furcal and a three-pitch strikeout of Matt Holliday -- but blew the save when Ryan Ludwick singled sharply, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Colby Rasmus' RBI broken-bat single.
Torre went to Broxton, abiding by his kid-glove treatment of the 21-year-old Kershaw's arm. To that point, Kershaw had allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven, including two in the eighth inning. But Kershaw had 112 pitches and Torre said he never thought about letting him pitch the ninth.
"No, not with Broxton," said Torre. "We were flirting in the eighth and Kershaw was going man by man, but he showed me. He got them all out."
Martin said Kershaw never showed any sign of tiring, but Kershaw took the company line when asked if he was disappointed with not getting a chance to finish off his first complete game.
"I'll take 1-0 with Broxton in the ninth, I'll take my chances 100 percent of the time," said Kershaw, whose eight innings were a career high. "He's been lights-out all year. If it happens again, I'd have no hesitation taking my chances with Broxton."
In Kershaw's past nine starts, he is 5-0 with four no-decisions and an 0.79 ERA -- the best in the Major Leagues dating to June 10. Part of his improvement is the addition of a slider to his fastball, curve and changeup.
"I try to keep my confidence the same no matter if I'm pitching good or bad, but obviously in a stretch like I'm in, you get a little bit of confidence," said Kershaw, whom the Dodgers have refused to include in any trade talk. "That's one of the better lineups I've faced since I've been up here."
Ramon Troncoso, after pitching out of a jam with the score tied in the 10th, couldn't wrap it up with a lead in the 11th, allowing three hits and a run. Kuo, in his second appearance after three months on the disabled list, saved Troncoso from a loss by striking out Rasmus with a 97-mph fastball and getting Yadier Molina on a diving catch by Andre Ethier.
Ryan led off the last inning with a triple into the left-field corner off former Cardinal Jeff Weaver. Pinch-hitter Jason LaRue popped out, former Dodger Julio Lugo walked and Mark DeRosa bounced to Furcal, who threw Ryan out at the plate and set the stage for Pujols, who worked a 3-2 count before launching his bullet over Kemp, who seemed to be a bit shallow considering the quality of the batter.
"He hit that ball hard," Kemp said. "It one-hopped the wall. That ball stayed low. He and Holliday, those two hit line drives hard to judge, they hit it so darn hard."
The Dodgers took leads when James Loney cashed in a gift triple by Casey Blake with an RBI single in the fourth inning and Kemp brought home Blake with a sacrifice fly in the 11th.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.