Facing a familiar postseason predicament, the Dodgers resolved to attack one major obstacle at a time and Jose Lima vowed to lead them.
The flamboyant pitcher fed off the energy of postseason-starved fans Saturday night and the Dodgers followed him to a 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League division series in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 55,992 at Dodger Stadium.
The right-hander dazzled in a five-hitter, tossing the Dodgers' first postseason shutout since Orel Hershiser dominated the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the 1988 World Series. It seemed only fitting that the stadium's largest crowd since that game did its part to help the Dodgers stave off elimination in the best-of-five series and record their first playoff victory in four presidential administrations.
"I told you I was going to bring my 'A' game. I wasn't going to let these guys down," said Lima, who dropped to one knee, pumped his right fist and prayed as the Dodgers and the crowd celebrated the final out.
"I was going to bring everything I have in my heart for this ballclub and to the fans.... Our season was not going to end this night. No way."
Fans made their presence felt in boosting the Dodgers' spirits -- waving "Think Blue" rally towels and maintaining high-volume support from the outset -- as playoff baseball returned to Chavez Ravine for the first time in eight years.
"If there is such a thing as fans rising to another level," Manager Jim Tracy said, "then they definitely did that tonight."
Lima said the fans' good vibes helped him to deliver on his pregame promise to extend the series to Game 4 today at Dodger Stadium.
He silenced the league's top batting order in a clutch show-stopping performance -- retiring the side in order in the third, fourth, sixth and ninth -- that lifted the Dodgers after two losses at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals never threatened after Tony Womack was stranded at third in the first.
"It's all different now," Lima said. "It's a new series now."
Shawn Green and Steve Finley played the biggest roles in helping Lima and the Dodgers, whose previous playoff victory occurred Oct. 20, 1988, in Game 5 of the World Series at Oakland.
Green became the first Dodger to have a multi-homer postseason game since Eric Karros in the 1995 division series, and Finley finally provided the timely two-out hit that had eluded the Dodgers in St. Louis. He drove in all the runs Lima would need with a two-run, bases-loaded, broken-bat double in the third. Finley's first hit of the series occurred after the Dodgers caught a break on a missed call on Lima's sacrifice bunt.
The Dodgers ended their postseason losing streak at eight games, avoided a third consecutive playoff sweep and positioned themselves to make history. Since the inception of the current division-series format, no NL team has won a series after dropping the first two games.
Guess who figures that's about to change too?
"We've come back so many times this year that everybody on this team really believes we can do this," said Green, the only Dodger with three homers in division series play. "Everyone knows we didn't play well in St. Louis, a lot of things went wrong in both games, but we've got a pretty good track record of coming back."
With a franchise-record 53 comeback victories, including 26 in their final at-bat, the Dodgers had reason for optimism despite having suffered consecutive 8-3 blowout losses to the Cardinals. Optimism turned to confidence after Lima's bold prediction was among many inspiring moments in the clubhouse before the game, including rousing speeches from owner Frank McCourt and Tom Lasorda.
And then Lima went out and sparkled, with the crowd responding wildly to every fist pump and primal scream emanating from the mound.
"He said there was no way he was losing this game," Finley said. "He was prepared and he went out with a lot of emotion. The crowd really fed off of him."
In an efficient outing, Lima walked only one and had four strikeouts while throwing 74 strikes in 109 pitches. He had a five-pitch inning in the third and a six-pitch inning in the fourth.
Cardinal starter Matt Morris couldn't keep pace in seven innings. Morris pitched a two-hitter Sept. 3 in outdueling Lima in a 3-0 victory at Busch Stadium. But with the stakes higher in the rematch, Lima landed a knockout blow.
"You pitch nine innings against our club and shut us out, it's an outstanding pitching performance," said Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa, whose team led the league in batting average, runs and slugging percentage.
Of course, it helped that the Dodgers and Lima had some good fortune in the third.
Umpire Chuck Meriwether had a blown call as the Dodgers staked Lima to a 2-0 lead on Finley's hit.