LOS ANGELES -- Adrian Gonzalez has shown during his career that he can carry a ballclub.
It has been a struggle finding the strength to lift up the Dodgers, but on Saturday he flexed his muscles and provided the necessary thump in the middle of the order to help pull Los Angeles to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not that it came easy for the Dodgers, who nearly wasted a solid start by Ted Lilly with some shaky relief work, only to conjure up a little magic in the form of Carl Crawford's legs and Mark Ellis' bat to pull out the win.
And in the big picture, maybe it's a good thing the Dodgers got pushed, that the win didn't come easy and they had to battle again to pull it out. The biggest gripe against the team this year is its inability to fight back.
"Just the fact that we stayed in the game absolutely helps," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez had three hits and three RBIs, blasting a deep run-scoring double to center field in the first, a sharp RBI single to center in the third and a long home run to right in the fifth to give the Dodgers a 3-1 lead.
"I got a changeup up in the zone. It barely got over the fence," Gonzalez said. "Good thing it was a day game."
In a season in which the Dodgers have struggled to get production from the middle of their order, Gonzalez continues to produce.
"Adrian's been huge. He's been getting his hits all along," Mattingly said. "He's had a little spell lately where his average has dropped, but he's been huge. He gets so many big hits."
Lilly, making just his third start of the season while dealing with offseason shoulder surgery and a rib cage injury last month, was surprisingly sharp in his six-plus innings.
"If we got five today, we were going to be happy and he gives us five and a third," Mattingly said.
The veteran left-hander surrendered an unearned run in the first, but after that he settled down to retire 14 straight batters until issuing a one-out walk to Matt Holiday in the sixth.
"My timing was a little bit in and out. I wasn't necessarily all over the place, but my command wasn't as good as I would like it to be," Lilly said. "I still have a little ways to go with sharpness."
The walk prompted Mattingly to lift Lilly in favor of Ronald Belisario, who began by getting Allen Craig to ground into a fielder's choice in which Holiday was thrown out at second.
But that's when the wheels fell off. Yadier Molina singled to center to put runners at first and second, and David Freese doubled home Craig to make the score 3-2.
The Dodgers put Jon Jay on with an intentional walk to load the bases, and Pete Kozma hit a hard liner up the third base line. Dodgers third baseman Nick Punto made a diving stop but couldn't collect himself in time to prevent Molina from scoring the tying run to make the score 3-3.
Paco Rodriguez relieved Belisario and got pinch-hitter Matt Adams to pop out to end the inning -- and at least preserve the tie.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Crawford reached first on an error by Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. Crawford raced home on Ellis' double to left field to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead.
The error by Carpenter was the key.
"It was a tough play. Crawford was getting down the line fast and he felt it," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He had an in-between hop, trying to do a quick exchange. But he's been very good at second."
The Dodgers tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when Juan Uribe doubled home Ellis to make it 5-3.
Meanwhile, three Dodgers relief pitchers limited the Cardinals to one run in the final four innings, with Brandon League picking up his sixth save with a scoreless ninth.
The day started poorly for the Cardinals, who lost starter Joe Gast in the second inning with soreness in his left elbow.
Gast felt discomfort in the bullpen but decided to give it a go. Needless to say, he didn't last long.
"Sometimes these guys don't feel good, then they get into the game and start pitching and figure it out, or it loosens up for them," Matheny said. "It seemed to be kind of what he had going. But most of the time he had trouble getting it loose and getting it going. So we had to wait and see what we had."
Joe Kelly replaced Gast and pitched the next three innings, giving up two runs and five hits.
"There was a little bit of warning. They called down between innings, and then I got on the mound right away and tried to get warm as fast as I could," Kelly said. "I just needed only eight (warm-up pitches) out there. I could have gotten more, but I felt like my arm was ready to go."
NOTES: Dodgers SS Hanley Ramirez took batting practice on Friday and is eager to begin a minor-league rehab assignment. But the Dodgers are taking a cautious approach with Ramirez, who has played in just four of the Dodgers' first 47 games while dealing with thumb and hamstring injuries. Ramirez missed the first 25 games of the season recovering from a torn ligament in his right thumb suffered during the World Baseball Classic, then tweaked a hamstring after coming back. Needless to say, he's champing at the bit to come back. "After the (thumb) surgery, I came back early because I felt I could come back early," he said. "This is different. So I leave it up to them this time. I don't want to come back early, then go back for two months. When I try to come back, I want to go all the way to the end of the season." ... Cardinals pitcher Jake Westbrook, who suffered a setback in his quest to come back from an elbow injury, will consult with Dr. James Andrews early next week in hopes of getting more clarification. "Things still seem to be moving (how) we would expect," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But we'd like to get another look." ... Meanwhile, fellow pitcher Chris Carpenter, who hoped to face live Cardinals hitters next week as he works his way back from a shoulder injury, is applying some brakes on his recovery after a less than ideal reaction to his bullpen session on Thursday. Carpenter is not expected to face live batters next week and he will dial down the amount of pitches he throws in his bullpen sessions. "We're going to slow down a little. He's been working fast and the last outing he didn't feel as good," Matheny said. "For the first couple of times, It was like 'I feel great. I feel great.'" But that changed after Thursday's session. "We're going to back off from that 'live' situation and continue with the long toss and the bullpens."