LOS ANGELES — All that Matt Holliday needed to do was make the catch, and the Cardinals would have tied the series.
Instead, his error gave Los Angeles a second chance, and St. Louis wound up on the brink of elimination.
Holliday dropped a sinking line drive with two outs in the ninth inning, leading to a two-run rally by the Dodgers that gave them a 3-2 victory Thursday.
Ronnie Belliard and pinch-hitter Mark Loretta came through with RBI singles off closer Ryan Franklin, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NL playoff series. Game 3 is Saturday in St. Louis.
The Cardinals got a second-inning homer from Holliday and a stellar performance from starter Adam Wainwright, who left with a 2-1 lead after eight innings. Still, St. Louis went home empty-handed after opening the series with two Cy Young Award candidates on the mound: Chris Carpenter and Wainwright.
"Right now we're feeling disappointed, upset," Manager Tony La Russa said. "Right now, I think it's important to get upset. To turn the page too quickly, it means you don't care."
With the bases empty in the ninth and St. Louis on the verge on tying the series, Holliday charged in on James Loney's liner to left field. But the ball hit his midsection and dropped to the grass, allowing Loney to reach second.
Franklin walked Casey Blake before Belliard singled up the middle, scoring pinch-runner Juan Pierre. A passed ball moved runners up to second and third, and Franklin walked Russell Martin on four pitches to load the bases.
Loretta, batting for reliever George Sherrill, was 0-for-15 in his career against Franklin before hitting a soft single to center that drove in Blake. That triggered a huge celebration, with teammates jumping on Loretta in a pile between first and second base.
"Unfortunately, I did know the numbers," Loretta said. "This series is far from over. St. Louis is a very talented team. We're going to have to keep battling as hard as we can."
The late rally was nothing new for the Dodgers. They won 23 regular-season games in their final at-bat, most in the National League.
"I think it's just the confidence we have in the last inning," Loretta said.
Holliday was a huge reason the Cardinals won the NL Central. Acquired from Oakland in a trade in late July, the slugger's hitting tear helped St. Louis cruise to the division title.
His fielding gaffe on Thursday, however, cost the Cardinals dearly.
Sherrill got the win for the Dodgers, in position for a sweep in the opening round for the second consecutive year. Last year, they won the first two games at Wrigley Field before closing out the Chicago Cubs at home in Game 3.
Franklin took the loss, spoiling an outstanding effort by Wainwright.
The NL leader with 19 victories, Wainwright allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked one. That followed a subpar outing by Carpenter, who lasted only five innings and took the loss in Game 1.
Wainwright was 1-0 with four saves when the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series in their last playoff appearance, making him the first pitcher since Bob Welch to save a World Series game and then start a post-season game.
Louisville native Trever Miller started the ninth and retired Andre Ethier on a popup before turning it over to Franklin.
Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old left-hander starting for the first time in the post-season, allowed nine hits and two runs in 62⁄3 innings. He struck out four and walked two.