ST. LOUIS — From the way players embraced each other by the mound to how Manny Ramirez made an early exit from the clubhouse, everything about the Dodgers' postgame celebration had an extremely matter-of-fact feel to it.
What reason was there for them to scream when their 5-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday was almost completely devoid of drama?
What reason was there for them to parade around a field that wasn't theirs?
What reason was there for them to pile on top of one another when they had ambitions greater than completing a three-game sweep in the National League division series?
"We're not here just to make it to the second round," catcher Russell Martin said after Vicente Padilla shut out the Cardinals for seven innings. "We want to make it all the way through. I think everyone has the World Series on the back of their minds."
Or the front.
"We get to go to the next series and be one series closer to the World Series," said Andre Ethier, who drove in two runs, scored two more and fell a single short of the cycle.
Ethier recalled what Manager Joe Torre told the players in the Dodgers' first meeting in spring training.
"Joe sits down," Ethier said, "the first words to come out of his mouth are, 'Our goal is to win the World Series from this day forward.' "
The next stage of the journey will start Thursday, when the Dodgers open the best-of-seven National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium.
They will face either the Philadelphia Phillies or Colorado Rockies, who are tied 1-1 in their series.
The Dodgers played with a sense of urgency Saturday, knowing that a loss would extend the series to a fourth game in which they would face Cy Young Award candidate Chris Carpenter, albeit on a short rest.
In a deciding fifth game at Dodger Stadium, they would have to take on Adam Wainwright, who held them to one run and three hits in eight innings Thursday.
The Dodgers had an edge, not only in games won, but also in state of mind.
The Cardinals looked like a team that was still shell-shocked from its ninth-inning collapse in Game 2 -- when, with St. Louis an out away from victory, Matt Holliday dropped a fly ball that opened the door for a two-run, walk-off rally.
The Dodgers wasted no time taking control of Game 3.
Ramirez hit a two-out double in the first inning that drove in Matt Kemp from first base to put the Dodgers up, 1-0.
Ethier extended the lead to 3-0 in the third inning, launching a two-run home run into the right-field stands against Joel Pineiro.
Rafael Furcal, who was six for 12 in the series, singled to left field in the fourth inning to drive in Ronnie Belliard and increase the margin to 4-0.
"We showed up," Ethier said. "When we scored the first run, we showed them we were here to play today, that we're ready, that we're not going to roll over in their home park. We established the tempo here early."
Ramirez pretty much buried the Cardinals in the seventh inning, when he singled to left to drive in Ethier, giving the Dodgers a 5-0 advantage.
Padilla pitched as effectively as the lineup hit.
He had a bases-loaded scare in the first inning, but forced Yadier Molina to ground out to shortstop Furcal to get out of the inning with the Dodgers' one-run margin intact.
From that point on, Padilla was nearly unhittable, retiring 16 of the next 17 batters.
In his first postseason game, Padilla limited the Cardinals to four hits and one walk.
"He was incredible," Martin said.
George Sherrill got two outs in the eighth inning, then Jonathan Broxton, despite giving up an RBI single to Albert Pujols in the eighth, closed the game with his second four-out save of the series.
The team's display of killer instinct left an impression on General Manager Ned Colletti.
"This is my 28th year in baseball," Colletti said. "This might be one of the top two or three teams I've ever been with as far who they are, how they go at it, how they root for each other, how they play together and how they refuse to get beaten."
The other teams on Colletti's list?
The 2002 San Francisco Giants, who reached the World Series before losing to the Angels, and the 1984 Chicago Cubs, who lost in the National League Championship Series.
The postgame celebration in the locker room consisted of the usual spraying of champagne and pouring of beer.
Hugs and handshakes were exchanged.
So were smiles.
But the celebration died down relatively quickly.
The first to leave was Ramirez, who ducked under the plastic cover protecting his locker.
Towel around his waist, a showered Ramirez gathered his clothes and retreated to an adjacent room to dress.
Then he left without speaking to reporters.
It was time to move on.
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Through the years
A look at the Los Angeles Dodgers' playoff history:
*--* Year West champion NL champion WS champion Playoff Result 2009 Yes 2008 Yes No -- Lost NLCS to Phillies, 4-1 2006 Tie Wild card; lost NLDS to Mets 3-0 2004 Yes No -- Lost NLDS to Cardinals, 3-1 1996 No -- -- Wild card; Lost NLDS to Braves, 3-0 1995 Yes No -- Lost NLDS to Reds, 3-0 1994 Yes -- -- Season ended by strike; no playoffs 1988 Yes Yes Yes Won WS over A's, 4-1 1985 Yes No -- Lost NLCS to Cardinals 4-2 1983 Yes No -- Lost NLCS to Phillies, 3-1 1981 Yes Yes Yes Won WS over Yankees, 4-2 1980 Tie -- -- Lost NL West playoff to Astros 1978 Yes Yes No Lost WS to Yankees, 4-2 1977 Yes Yes No Lost WS to Yankees, 4-2 1974 Yes Yes No Lost WS to A's, 4-1 1966 Yes No Lost WS to Orioles, 4-0 1965 Yes Yes Won WS over Twins, 4-3 1963 Yes Yes Won WS over Yankees, 4-0 1962 Tie -- Lost NL playoff to Giants, 2-1 1959 Yes Yes Won WS over White Sox, 4-2 *--*
Source: baseball-reference.com; Dodgers