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BILL PLASCHKE

It all works out for the best in Dodgers' victory

They show swagger and strength and make a whole lot of noise in beating St. Louis in the first game of division series.

October 08, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

The swagger was back, Matt Kemp swerving giddily around the bases as his Arch-sized shot soared into the night.

The savvy was back, his teammates scoring once on consecutive sacrifice hits, and again on a sacrificed body.

The strength was back, the league's best bullpen following Randy Wolf's billowing cumulus with a bunch of dark and stormy.

Even the sound was back, Chavez Ravine rocking in October again, white towels waving while an old white-haired man named Lasorda was flailing.

Dodgers? That you?

At least for the first night of baseball autumn, the most splendid of deep blue nights, it was.

After sleeping through much of the final days of the regular season, the team with the best record in the National League acted like it Wednesday, awakening with a start and a song.

You know, that Black Eyed Peas thing.

Boom, boom, pow.

In the National League division series opener against the favored St. Louis Cardinals, the Dodgers flung and swung their way through an unbeatable Chris Carpenter and an incomparable Cardinals cool to earn a 5-3 victory.

"We woke up today and it was like, man, it's the playoffs, cool," said the Dodgers' James Loney.

Cool, calculating and ultimately crushing.

They trailed five batters into the game after a fly ball dropped between Ronnie Belliard and Matt Kemp . . . but were leading about 10 minutes later on Kemp's two-run home run into the center-field blackness.

"Hopefully, we made a statement," Kemp said. "It's hard to come in here and push us around."

They allowed the Cardinals to put at least two men on base in each of the first four innings . . . but made the pitches to strand nine of those runners, and eventually held the Cardinals to one run in the final five innings.

"We have pitchers on this team who want the ball in big situations," Loney said. "You saw that tonight."

The Dodgers were occasionally battered, sometimes baffled, but never truly bloodied, and in the end, the great Cardinals starting pitching and the great Albert Pujols wilted under the renewed Dodgers will.

"They were sharper than we were in every area," said Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa.

This is only the first of a five-game series, and the Cardinals will still have at least one game at home this weekend, but the victory was important for the Dodgers psyche for two reasons.

They were able to bend a Cardinals ace, which was unimaginable during the regular season.

And they were able to bottle the National League most valuable player, which has been unimaginable for several years.

Carpenter, who entered the game with a career 5-0 record and 2.20 earned-run average against the Dodgers, was all thumbs, giving up nine hits and four runs in five innings.

Pujols was all grounded, intentionally walking twice, grounding out to the shortstop twice, and not scoring a run.

In all, the Cardinals' six pitchers walked nine batters and hit two while their offense stranded six runners in scoring position with two out, and that wasn't the half of it.

The game began with the Cardinals' Matt Holliday striking out with the bases loaded after watching all five of Wolf's pitches.

The game ended with Cardinals pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel, representing the tying run at the plate against Jonathan Broxton, striking out looking.

In between, there was Ryan Ludwick's fifth-inning fly ball that was one foot foul of being a grand slam, a long fly ball that ended up as an inning-ending grounder to Jeff Weaver.

''Baseball is a game of inches, huh?" said Weaver later, laughing.

As for the Dodgers, well, even their video board timing was perfect.

At the end of the seventh inning, moments after Manny Ramirez killed another threat with an inning-ending double-play grounder, the board showed an anti-steroids commercial.

Ramirez actually had one decent swing, a fourth-inning double, and drew one important walk, but he still shows no signs of coming out of his post-drug-suspension funk.

Can the Dodgers survive the postseason without him? So far, so good.

The first sign Wednesday occurred on the second pitch seen by the Dodgers, Rafael Furcal jumping on a Carpenter fastball, knocking it to left field. Kemp hit the next pitch over the center-field wall to make it 2-1, and the Dodgers never trailed again.

They began by scoring on a hit with the bat, and ended by scoring on a hit to the body, Russell Martin standing firm on a fastball from Kyle McLellan with bases loaded in the sixth inning, giving the Dodgers their fifth and final run.

That left it in the hands of the Dodgers' bullpen, five pitchers, 5 1/3 innings, five strikeouts, one run, and if this keeps up, maybe I will finally stop writing that the Dodgers can't win without an ace. Maybe.

Today's Game 2 task doesn't get any easier, with the Cardinals starting Adam Wainwright, a 19-game winner who has not given up a run in nine career postseason appearances.

The Dodgers will counter with Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old making the first postseason start of his career, and sounding like it.

"I can't really comment on what it's like to pitch in the postseason and start a game," he said. "I have never really done it."

We learned something about these Dodgers on Wednesday night. But the education is only beginning.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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