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Redbirds have a blast
ST. LOUIS -- Larry Walker is back in the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, and he's making the most of his second shot.
In the Cardinals' playoff opener, the three-time batting champion led the hit parade. Walker homered twice and St. Louis tied a postseason record by hitting five home runs, overwhelming Odalis Perez and the Los Angeles Dodgers in an 8-3 blowout Tuesday.
"It was a lot of fun out there today to see the packed house and everybody in red," Walker said. "It was a good feeling."
Walker, acquired in August from the Rockies, made his only other postseason appearance in 1995, batting .214 for Colorado in a first-round loss to Atlanta.
Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Mike Matheny, who've been part of three postseason teams in four years with St. Louis, also connected.
Add in a strong six-inning performance from Woody Williams and the Cardinals looked every bit as dominating as they did in leading the majors with 105 wins and leading the NL in runs and batting average.
The game was a slugfest, exactly what Dodgers manager Jim Tracy had hoped to avoid.
The Dodgers, who set a franchise record with 53 come-from-behind victories, fell so far behind they couldn't recover. A five-run third, all of the runs scoring with two outs, was the key.
"Two runs is nice, but getting five runs is just unbelievable," Williams said. "Especially in a game of this magnitude."
Los Angeles still hasn't won a postseason game since it beat the Oakland Athletics managed by Tony La Russa in the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers were swept in the first round by Atlanta in 1996 and Cincinnati in 1995.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Thursday night at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals also swept the Dodgers in a three-game series in early September. Jason Marquis pitches for St. Louis against Jeff Weaver.
"Our momentum can be recreated," Tracy said. "I just really feel like if we get adequate starting pitching, we have a good chance to hang in the series for quite a while and possibly win it."
The Cardinals clinched the NL Central on Sept. 18 before ending the season on cruise control, going 8-7 while La Russa seldom used his regular lineup. The finish featured the team's only four-game losing streak of the year, causing some consternation among its fans.
"It was harder to get there because we had the championship clinched, and we had to manufacture momentum and motivation," La Russa said. "The edge was back today because all of a sudden everything stands zero-zero."
When they again got to play a game that mattered, they pulled away quickly, hammering Perez for three homers in 2 2-3 innings.
Matheny connected off Elmer Dessens in the fourth to make it 7-0, giving the Cardinals a chance to cruise a bit again. After the Dodgers cut the deficit to 7-2, Walker homered again off Giovanni Carrara in the seventh.
"I don't know about that so-called switch that was turned off," Matheny said. "We respect the game way too much to think that we have enough ability to turn a switch off and then be able to play at our peak ability by turning it back on."
The Cardinals are one of four teams to hit five homers in a postseason game, joining the 1984 Cubs (NLCS), the 1928 Yankees (World Series) and the 1989 Athletics (World Series).
Perez has complained about the lack of run support after getting a franchise-record 18 no-decisions this season. He couldn't complain this time.
Two of the biggest hits came on consecutive at-bats from players whose performance dragged at the finish.
Edgar Renteria, 3-for-21 in his last six games, had a two-run double in the five-run third that broke open the game. Edmonds, who entered the postseason in a 1-for-29 slump, followed with a two-run homer to chase Perez.
Walker, who was 1-for-15 against Perez in the regular season, got the two-out, third-inning rally started with his two-out homer on the first pitch. Edmonds also connected on the first pitch.
Perez, making his first career postseason start, faced a tall order since the Cardinals had the three best hitters against left-handed pitching, including Pujols (.379), Scott Rolen (.371) and Renteria (.366). Plus, Pujols was 6-for-10 against him in the regular season with two homers, two doubles and seven RBIs.
Perez' bottom line, six runs on five hits in 2 2-3 innings, was even worse than his spotty past record against the Cardinals. In four career regular-season starts, none of them this season, he's 2-1 but with a 9.64 ERA.
Williams was a compromise pick as St. Louis' Game 1 starter after an injury to 15-game winner Chris Carpenter and season-long inconsistency by opening-day starter Matt Morris made him a risky call.
Carpenter was lost for at least the first round of the playoffs because of nerve irritation in his right biceps on Sept. 18, and Morris, who had been in line for Game 1, limped in with a 4.72 ERA and lasted only four innings in his final regular season start.
Williams, whose 11 victories trailed the staff in the regular season, labored somewhat and threw 116 pitches with two strikeouts and one walk. The Dodgers scored in the fifth on consecutive doubles by Cesar Izturis and Jayson Werth, and added a run in the sixth on Adrian Beltre's leadoff single and Alex Cora's two-out triple.
Tom Wilson hit a two-out homer in the ninth for Los Angeles.
Notes: Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial threw out the first pitch with another Hall of Famer, Red Schoendienst, on the receiving end. ... Walker is the third Cardinals player to homer twice in a postseason game. Ron Gant did it in the 1996 NLCS against the Braves and Willie McGee did it the 1982 World Series against the Brewers.