ST. LOUIS: The television on the wall in Dave Roberts’ office revealed the score, Los Angeles Dodgers 9, St. Louis Cardinals 6, and the length of the game, 3 hours 49 minutes. A thermometer recorded the temperature, sizzling into triple digits at Busch Stadium. The standings revealed the progress made by the Dodgers on this 10-day, nine-game, three-city trip across three time zones.
The team went into the All-Star break trailing San Francisco by 6 1/2 games in the National League West. With five victories on this trek, and with the Giants losing for the seventh time in eight games, the gap is now only three games. Leading the wild-card standings for weeks, the Dodgers can now see the division back within their reach.
“Our goal is to win the division,” Roberts said. “That hasn’t changed.”
The Dodgers (56-44) packed their bags for Los Angeles and a day off Monday. They return to action Tuesday at Dodger Stadium against Tampa Bay. The game will serve as a showcase for Chris Archer, the talented Rays pitcher whom the Dodgers covet.
On Sunday, Adrian Gonzalez and his teammates squashed a rookie pitcher, scoring nine runs in the first two innings. Gonzalez launched a grand slam. Howie Kendrick added a two-run home run. From there, the team held on as the humidity exhausted their pitching staff.
Scott Kazmir sweated through five innings of three-run baseball. Adam Liberatore’s streak of 28 consecutive scoreless outings ended in the seventh. He left the bases loaded for Joe Blanton, who allowed all three inherited runners to score.
“The first two innings were a battle,” Kazmir said. “Didn’t really have a feel for my breaking ball at all. Felt like I had no grip.”
Kazmir dueled with a 24-year-old rookie named Mike Mayers. The Cardinals called him up for his big league debut Sunday. A couple hours before the game, Justin Turner walked over to a bank of Lenovo ThinkPads in the visitors clubhouse and called out to the team’s video coordinator.
“Is there any video on this cat?” Turner asked.
Assured there was, he settled behind a laptop. He came to bat with no outs in the first inning after Chase Utley and Corey Seager had singled. Turner stayed patient and worked a walk.
Gonzalez outfitted himself in a special pair of cleats. The shoes featured an imprint of the unforgettable swing of Ken Griffey Jr., who was inducted into the Hall of Fame earlier in the day. The silhouette of Griffey glittered in gold across the white canvas.
In his first at-bat, Gonzalez may not have replicated the aesthetic majesty of Griffey’s swing. But he could not have asked for anything better than what he did. Mayers let a slider hang over the middle. Gonzalez walloped his team’s third grand slam of the season, and the 299th homer of his career.
“We’ve been playing good baseball for a while,” Gonzalez said. “If we would have won one more on this road trip, we would have been feeling really good about it. But we’ll take a winning road trip.”
The Dodgers did not let Mayers rest. Kendrick ripped a double in the next at-bat. The crowd at Busch Stadium offered an ovation when Mayers struck out Yasmani Grandal. After a groundout by Andrew Toles, Mayers looked close to escaping. ESPN captured his family watching in the stands.
The images of Mayers’ cheering section seemed cruel moments later. Joc Pederson singled and stole second base. Kazmir punched a fastball up the middle for a two-run single.
“We just came out and put great at-bats on him,” Turner said.
St. Louis found a run in the bottom of the first when Kendrick misplayed a Matt Holliday fly ball into an RBI double. But the Dodgers went back to pounding Mayers in the second.
Turner cracked a one-out single. Gonzalez deposited another single into right. Turner took third on the hit, and scored on a wild throw from the outfield by Stephen Piscotty.
Up came Kendrick, a veteran riding a 16-game hitting streak. Kendrick showed opposite-field strength, powering a two-run homer over the right-field fence. At last, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny showed some mercy on Mayers and removed him from the game.
“It’s always tough when you come up,” Kendrick said. “But this is a man’s game.”
Roberts struck a similar refrain. No one, he explained, will feel sorry for the Dodgers. The team will not offer pity for anyone else.
At the end of a sweltering, draining trip, Roberts and his players understood there was still room for growth. The rotation continues to tax the bullpen, and a pair of blown saves by Kenley Jansen led to two defeats. But San Francisco is now locked in their sights.
“Our intent every day is pretty consistent,” Roberts said. “If we can maintain this focus, we’ll be fine.”