ST. LOUIS — Anyone could be rusty after an eight-year layoff, so it figured the Dodgers might need a refresher course on playoff baseball.
An all-night cram session appeared to be in order after the St. Louis Cardinals hit five home runs Tuesday in an 8-3 blowout victory during Game 1 of the National League division series at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals quickly produced highlight-tape moments in front of a sellout crowd of 52,127, tying a league postseason record for home runs in racing to a 7-0 lead after four innings powered by Albert Pujols, Larry Walker and Jim Edmonds.
Pujols' solo homer in the first was the first sign of trouble in what became a long day for the Dodgers and a short work day for starter Odalis Perez.
St. Louis scored five runs with two out in the third to chase Perez, getting the first of Walker's two homers, a two-run double from Edgar Renteria and a two-run homer from Edmonds to make the score 6-0. Mike Matheny homered leading off the fourth and Walker hit his second homer in the seventh.
"Odalis is capable of giving you the kind of game you need and it didn't happen today," pitching coach Jim Colborn said. "We're disappointed and he's disappointed."
A red-clad, rally towel-waving crowd turned up the volume as Perez left, and then starter Woody Williams and the Cardinal bullpen silenced the Dodgers.
Williams gave up eight hits (the Dodgers and Cardinals each had nine) but only two runs in six innings.
"It's hard to really explain how it makes a pitcher feel getting runs like that that early," Williams said. "Two runs is nice, but getting five runs is just unbelievable, especially in a game of this magnitude."
Said Cardinal Manager Tony La Russa: "We have a lot of weapons."
Light-hitting Tom Wilson homered in the ninth against St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen, but the Dodgers would come nowhere near getting their 54th comeback victory of the season.
The Cardinals ruined the Dodgers' first postseason game since 1996, denying them their first playoff victory since 1988. The Dodgers said the euphoria of winning the NL West championship was replaced by the reality of their new situation, which isn't as pleasant.
Since the inception of the best-of-five division series in 1995, 15 of 18 NL teams have won the series after winning the first game. The Dodgers must now take three of four from the formidable Cardinals, who have home-field advantage and play host to the Dodgers again here Thursday night in Game 2.
Time to hit the books.
"That lineup over there is not an easy lineup," Adrian Beltre said of St. Louis, which led the NL in batting average, runs and slugging percentage.
"It might be the best lineup in the big leagues one through seven. We knew that coming in but they just overpowered us, so we're going to have to look at some things and try to do better pitching-wise and offensively."
The pitching problem began with Perez.
The left-hander had eagerly sought to start Game 1, saying he wanted the challenge "put on me." But Perez gave up the three homers among five hits and six earned runs in only 2 2/3 innings.
"We didn't get deterred at all getting down a couple of runs early," Milton Bradley said. "But then they kept adding on and adding on in that inning. It kind of knocks you down and wears on you."
Perez knows the feeling.
"I didn't do my best," he said. "I didn't perform the way I was supposed to perform. When you go out and you put your team in that situation, in the third inning and we're already six runs down, you just ... it's tough.
"It's on me.... I went out to give my best, but that just didn't happen."
It also didn't help the Dodgers that Steve Finley and Shawn Green went hitless in eight at-bats. With runners on first and second, Green flied out to end the first. With a run in and a runner at second, Finley ended the fifth.
But Perez's performance buried the Dodgers.
"We need quality outs from our starting pitcher and we didn't get that today," Manager Jim Tracy said. "But the object of the situation we're in now is that the first team to three wins.
"How you go about doing that is immaterial."