Dodgers beat Cardinals, clinch NL’s top playoff seed

LOS ANGELES ― The Dodgers staged a special ceremony for two retiring St. Louis Cardinals stars on Friday night. Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina received matching golf bags.

Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright did not receive any kind of going-away present Sunday.

The Dodgers knocked out the 41-year-old right-hander after scoring four runs in the first three innings en route to a 4-1 win over St. Louis. The win allowed the Dodgers to match their franchise record for regular-season wins before an announced crowd of 48,695 at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers’ 106th win of 2022 equaled their record totals from 2019 and 2021. They were on pace to win 116 games in 2020 when the pandemic-shortened regular season ended after 60 games.

No team has ever won 106 games in one year, then added to that total the next. The Dodgers have a chance to be the first Tuesday in San Diego.

“It’s amazing,” manager Dave Roberts said. “You’re looking at a lot of years of baseball … To do that again speaks to the consistency, along with excellence, the standard that we set here with the Dodgers. It takes a lot of people to do what we’ve done.”

The tone for Sunday’s game was set when Brendan Donovan led off the first inning against Michael Grove (1-0) by hitting a ball above the short wall in left field. Dodgers left fielder Joey Gallo reached up to steal a souvenir from fans in the front row. Five other balls went as far as the warning track. Only one resulted in a hit.

That was a boon for Grove. The 25-year-old right-hander was credited with his first career win in his fifth major league start. He allowed only three hits and one run across five innings. Grove walked one batter and struck out three.

“He gave us five really strong innings,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “Mixed well, expanded the zone, his breaking ball was good, his fastball was good. I’m happy for him getting win number 1.”

Roberts said Grove had been feeling ill in the days leading up to the start, enough so that Roberts excused him from attending Saturday’s game at Dodger Stadium. Grove, for his part, did not mention the illness in his postgame remarks to reporters.

Nor did Grove know about the unusual stakes Sunday. Not only did the Dodgers match their record win total, they clinched home-field advantage until at least the National League Championship Series, should they advance that far in the postseason.

“I try to go out there and figure out what the lineup is, and how I’m going to get each guy out,” he said. “If I had known that, maybe there would have been more pressure.”

Freddie Freeman, who returned to the lineup after a brief illness, drove in Trea Turner with a double to give the Dodgers their first run. Gallo followed with a bases-loaded walk later in the first inning.

St. Louis got a run back in the second inning on an RBI single by Juan Yepez. But an RBI single by Smith in the second inning, and an RBI double by Cody Bellinger in the third, gave Grove enough of a cushion to cruise to the victory.

Wainwright, a free agent at the end of the season who has not officially announced his plans for 2023, suffered his shortest start since April 2021. He retired only nine of the 19 batters he faced.

Brusdar Graterol pitched a scoreless sixth inning, and rookie right-hander Andre Jackson completed the final three innings without allowing a run to record the save. Roberts said that allowed him to reset his bullpen for the three-game series against the Padres beginning Tuesday.

St. Louis (89-65) has a chance to face the Dodgers (106-47) again in October if they clinch the National League Central title as expected. Regardless of their opponent, the Dodgers won’t have to worry about where Game 1 will be until at least the World Series.

That matters, Smith said.

“It’s super important,” he said. “We missed out on (home-field advantage) last year. That probably wore us down a little bit. It’ll be nice this year to have home-field advantage.”