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Sports

Cardinals take 3-1 NLCS lead over Dodgers

Nick Punto was downcast after being picked off second base for the second out of the seventh inning, ending the Dodgers’ last scoring threat.

David J. Phillip/AP

Nick Punto was downcast after being picked off second base for the second out of the seventh inning, ending the Dodgers’ last scoring threat.

LOS ANGELES — The two home runs were drastically different but equally effective. Matt Holliday hit a moon shot that probably clipped the “Hollywood” sign as it sailed into the dusk. Shane Robinson’s didn’t even clear the left-field fence, landing on the top of it and bouncing into the disappointed throng of fans.

The St. Louis Cardinals took two routes to break out of their series-long hitting slump Tuesday at Dodger Stadium: one was expected, and one was mindboggling.

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Holliday’s two-run shot put the Cardinals ahead for good in the third inning and Robinson added a solo homer in the seventh as St. Louis assumed command of the National League Championship Series with a 4-2 win. They lead the series, three games to one, with Game 5 Wednesday afternoon.

The Cardinals entered Tuesday hitting .134 in the series with three extra-base hits and no home runs. That changed when Holliday hit a 426-foot, two-run shot off Ricky Nolasco to cap a three-run third inning.

After the Dodgers cut the deficit to 3-2, Robinson was supposed to serve as just another light-hitting out as a pinch hitter in the seventh. Instead, the 165-pound Robinson popped a J.P. Howell changeup on top of the left-field wall, bouncing into the bleachers for just the sixth homer in Robinson’s major league career and the first hit in 11 postseason at-bats.

“Marriage and child birth are a little bit above it, but it’s there,” Robinson said when asked where this home run ranked in lifetime achievements. “This is not exactly a fearful [Cardinals] bench. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are coming up. But everyone of those guys, whether it be base running or defense, we just try to help out.”

It provided a monumental insurance run and gave St. Louis a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning. The Dodgers had little response after their two-run fourth inning. Juan Uribe bounced into an inning-ending double play in the sixth and Nick Punto was picked off second base after a one-out double in the seventh.

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St. Louis only collected six hits, but they came in critical junctures. And they received 5 serviceable innings from Lance Lynn, who allowed two runs with five strikeouts and three walks. He gave the Cardinals what they needed, a chance to win in the late innings.

As flawless as the Dodgers were in their 3-0 Game 3 win, they were erratic in Game 4. And it didn’t help that shortstop Hanley Ramirez was a shell of himself because of a fractured rib and gave way to Punto after taking three consecutive strikes without flinching in the fifth.

“Well, it’s the same condition,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He was having a little more trouble today as the game went on. We’ll try it again tomorrow.”

Trailing, 3-0, the Dodgers struck back in the fourth. Adrian Gonzalez led off with a double to right, giving the home fans something to cheer about.

Andre Either walked, bringing up Yasiel Puig, who always brings along drama with his bat. Lynn’s first pitch was high and tight, perhaps retaliation for Puig’s celebratory triple in Game 3. Puig hit the deck, stared briefly at Lynn, then walked out of the batter’s box.

Five pitches later, he laced a single past shortstop Daniel Descalso for an RBI, scoring Gonzalez. After a Uribe fly ball allowed Ethier to advance to third, catcher A.J. Ellis poked an RBI single to center to slice the deficit to 3-2.

With runners on first and second, Mattingly sent up Skip Schumaker to pinch hit for Nolasco. He bounced into an inning-ending double play and equally as important, the Dodgers were relegated to using their bullpen for at least the final five innings.

The decision to start Nolasco was steadfastly defended by Mattingly, whose other choice was to go with righthander Zack Greinke on three days’ rest. Nolasco was smooth through the first two innings, yielding just a walk to Yadier Molina.

But he experienced issues in the third. Descalso led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Lynn. Matt Carpenter followed with an opposite-field double to left-center field, bringing in Descalso for the Cardinals’ first runs since the fifth inning of Game 2.

Holliday then demolished a first-pitch fastball beyond the Los Angeles bullpen, a feat considering Dodger Stadium’s history as a pitcher’s park. The estimated distance was 426 feet and it was Holliday’s first hit of the series after 13 empty at-bats.

“I think I hit one here in Dodger Stadium in ’06; I think that they said it went a lot farther,” said Holliday, who hit one here in 2006 that was an estimated 476 feet while with the Colorado Rockies. “Have I hit farther ones? Maybe, but not that kind of situation. As far as being 0 for [13], the way I’ve looked at it, I’ve actually had good at-bats. My swing felt good.”

Nolasco recovered to strike out Matt Adams to conclude the third, then retired the side in order in the fourth, making for a respectable outing, save the one bad pitch to Holliday. He allowed three runs in four innings with four strikeouts and one walk, but his early exit left the Dodgers faithful considering the possibilities if Greinke had started on short rest.

“Just didn’t get a good [feeling about going with Greinke],” Mattingly said. “As we talked through it, I think that’s one of those things that you’ve got to feel 100 percent sure that’s the right thing, and it didn’t feel that way.”

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe

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