ST. LOUIS — Clayton Kershaw was again cruising through the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup, this time allowing one hit and striking out nine over six innings.
Then just as suddenly as it happened in the opener of this NL Division Series, he lost it. And now, the Los Angeles Dodgers' season is over.
The lefty who's favored to win his third NL Cy Young and perhaps the MVP, too, faltered in the seventh inning, giving up a three-run homer to Matt Adams that propelled the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers and a fourth straight trip to the NL Championship Series.
"The season ended and I was a big part of the reason why," said the Dodgers' ace. "It doesn't feel good regardless of how you pitched."
Kershaw dropped to 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 postseason games, including three relief appearances early in his career. He has lost four straight starts to St. Louis over the past two postseasons and failed to make it out of the seventh in either of his starts this October.
"I've had success against them, too," Kershaw said. "It just seems like one inning gets me every time. And obviously that's not success."
"I don't know. I don't think it's anything magic," he added.
Following their 3-1 win in the best-of-five Division Series, the Cardinals await San Francisco or Washington with their rotation well-rested for the NLCS, which starts Saturday. They would open at home against the Giants or at the Nationals.
Trevor Rosenthal allowed two runners in the ninth before getting Carl Crawford to ground into a game-ending forceout for his third save of the series. At AT&T Park in San Francisco, fans cheered when the rival Dodgers were eliminated.
While the steady Cardinals advanced to their ninth NLCS in 15 years, the defeat was a huge disappointment for the NL West champion Dodgers, who finished the regular season with a $256 million payroll that was $40 million higher than any other team.
Los Angeles remains without a pennant since winning the 1988 World Series.
Manager Don Mattingly benched slumping Yasiel Puig for the clincher, using him as a pinch runner in the ninth. Replacement Andre Ethier was 0 for 2 with two walks and was picked off third in the sixth inning.
Mattingly refused to second-guess the move he didn't make: lifting Kershaw.
Mattingly was hesitant to use a bullpen that's foundered, aside from closer Kenley Jansen, so he asked Kershaw, working on three days' rest, to get three outs in the seventh.
"He's pitching really good through major parts of that game," Mattingly said. "So I don't know if it's necessarily that they have any kind of command over Clayton."
Kershaw started on extra rest for the second time in his postseason career. He was dominant until the seventh when the Cardinals started the inning with three straight hits.
The third hit Tuesday came when Adams drove a curveball on Kershaw's 102nd pitch into the right-center bullpen to put St. Louis up 3-2. Adams thrust his hands over his head in the batter's box then jumped several times as he ran down the first base line. A stunned Kershaw bent over on the mound, head hung and hands on his knees.
Kershaw allowed one homer to left-handed batters while going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA in the regular season. He gave up two to the Cardinals, with Matt Carpenter connecting in the opener. The left-handed ace is 0-3 with a 9.72 ERA in his last three postseason appearances.
Pat Neshek worked a perfect eighth for the second straight game and Rosenthal pitched the ninth for a second straight day, receiving two visits to the mound from catcher Yadier Molina and one from the pitching coach after a shaky start to the inning.
Kershaw had struck out the side in the sixth, but Matt Holliday opened the seventh with a sharp single up the middle off second baseman Dee Gordon's glove. Jhonny Peralta then lined another single before Adams homered off a left-hander for the first time since July 7.
The Cardinals had an NL-low 105 homers this season and left-hander batters had only eight homers against lefty pitching. But lefties hit five off Dodgers southpaws in four playoff games.
Shelby Miller matched Kershaw into the sixth, when the Dodgers started the inning with two hits. They scored a run on Matt Kemp's double-play grounder and added another on Juan Uribe's RBI single against Seth Maness.
Los Angeles wasted a chance to add on when Ethier was picked off third by Molina after the catcher quickly recovered a pitch in the dirt. Ethier was initially ruled safe but the call was overturned by video review.
Miller went 5 2-3 innings in his first postseason start.
Cardinals: Adam Wainwright gets extra rest after a Game 1 dud when he was charged with six runs in 4 1-3 innings at Dodger Stadium. He was 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA in September with two complete games, one of them a shutout.
Scott Rolen, who earned three of his seven Gold Gloves at third base and was a key member of two World Series teams, threw out the first pitch.