10/05/2004 4:20 PM ET
Dodgers, Perez drop opener
Five St. Louis home runs send Los Angeles to defeat
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Theories on Odalis Perez's implosion Tuesday ranged from the way he selected and threw pitches to the possibility he was tipping them.
But there was nothing theoretical about the results. The most important start of his career turned into one of his worst and the Cardinals pounded out an 8-3 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series.
"Momentum starts and is created on the mound," said manager Jim Tracy. "If we get adequate starting pitching, we have a good chance to hang in the series for quite a while and possibly win it."
Historically, however, the Dodgers still haven't won a postseason game since the 1988 World Series (0-7) and are winless in four playoff games at Busch Stadium, which includes suffering a three-game sweep during the 1985 League Championship Series.
Of more immediate concern, the Dodgers haven't beaten this Cardinals team on the road in four tries this year and Games 2 and 5 (if necessary) are set for Busch. St. Louis didn't win 106 games by accident.
"We have to play almost perfect baseball to beat them," said MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, who had two of the Dodgers' nine hits. "They overpowered us. Everybody knows they have a good team offensively."
Tracy warned that his club couldn't afford to get drawn into a slugfest with the Cardinals and he was more than correct. It was the Cardinals who did most of the slugging with an Division Series-record five homers, three off Perez.
"I didn't have it today," said Perez. "You don't want to put the team down. Even with 53 comebacks, six runs in three innings, no way. This (St. Louis) is a different baseball team."
Albert Pujols, Larry Walker and Jim Edmonds homered off Perez. Mike Matheny added one off long reliever Elmer Dessens leading off the fourth inning and Walker hit another off Giovanni Carrara leading off the seventh.
"It was pretty impressive," said Shawn Green. "But we look at it like one loss. If we get out of here with a split, it's a good trip."
For the Dodgers, there was no miracle comeback, walk-off grand slam or seven-run ninth inning, only the reality of needing to beat the winningest team in baseball three of the next four. Game 2 of this series is Thursday night, when the Dodgers will turn to Jeff Weaver. Perez is scheduled to pitch Game 4 in Los Angeles on Sunday.
A five-run third inning -- all of it with two outs -- chased Perez and left his team groping for an explanation.
"They try to steal pitches, that could be one thing," said pitching coach Jim Colborn. "That's one of the first theories."
Colborn and Tracy implied that Perez shifted from his recent successful approach and fell into predictable pitch sequences. The home run by Walker on a flat breaking ball got the third-inning outburst started and caused most of the Dodgers head scratching.
"All the fundamentals that are used in successful pitching, not all of those fundamentals were followed today," Colborn said.
Proud to be handed the ball for the opener, Perez was removed from the biggest game he ever pitched after only 2 2/3 innings, his shortest start since last September's finger blister, and was charged with six runs on five hits.
It wasn't totally unanticipated, as Perez came into the game with a 9.64 ERA in four lifetime starts against the Cardinals.
Perez has had recurring shoulder problems since June, but consecutive eight-inning starts in the last two weeks of the season left management relatively comfortable he would keep his team in the game.
Perez said his arm felt fine and he discounted the possibility that St. Louis hitters knew what was coming. He said they're so good, they don't need to.
"I felt like this was going to be the best game of my career," he said. "My arm felt fine and I had all the pitches warming up in the bullpen. My fastball was harder than it's been. I don't think I was tipping pitches. But you can be the best pitcher and challenge these guys and if they see something wrong, you know they're going to hurt you."
Spots two through six in the Cardinals order -- Walker, Pujols, Scott Rolen, Edgar Renteria and Edmonds -- went 7-for-16 with four homers, four walks and seven RBIs.
In the final week leading to Saturday's division clincher, Dodgers starting pitching, which had staggered for most of September, stepped up, but the offense limped home. This game was the worst of both worlds, as the offense nearly was as ineffective as Perez.
Cardinals starter Woody Williams dodged several jams before back-to-back two-out doubles from Cesar Izturis and Jayson Werth in the fifth spoiled the shutout. Alex Cora drove in the second run with a sixth-inning triple and Tom Wilson slugged a solo homer to center with two out in the ninth for the final run.
The Dodgers' game plan against Williams appeared to be to work deep into counts, which resulted in a 25-pitch first inning, three baserunners the first two innings, but no runs.
The Cardinals' game plan against Perez was simpler -- go deep -- and much more effective. Pujols launched an 84 mph changeup into the center-field seats for a 1-0 lead in the second inning, leaving Perez to yell at himself as he left the field when the inning ended.
Walker was only 1-for-16 lifetime against Perez when he took him deep with two out in the third inning and that rattled Perez enough to be followed by a Pujols single up the middle and a walk to Rolen.
Renteria then lined a double just inside the left-field line and it bounced off the box-seat façade back toward the infield. Both runners scored and left fielder Werth nearly threw his elbow out trying for Rolen at the plate.
Edmonds, most recently 1-for-30, turned it into a rout with a two-run homer into the Cardinals bullpen and that was it for Perez.
|Odalis Perez allowed six runs on five hits (three homers) in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1. (L.G. Patterson/AP)
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.