- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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ST. LOUIS -- All right. Here are the things a starting pitcher would rather do than face the St. Louis Cardinals lineup:
Go out in public wearing that wig Tom Sizemore used to portray Pete Rose in "Hustle.''
Shake hands with Moises Alou after he's performed his special pre-game "ritual.''
Be trapped in an elevator for five hours with a Red Sox fan who wants to tell you about "how much Boston has suffered.''
And, of course, manage the Kansas City Royals.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, none of those were an option when they played their first postseason game in eight years in Tuesday's Division Series opener against St. Louis, nor are they an option when the series resumes Thursday with Game 2. Instead, they will once again have to walk onto the mound in front of a sellout crowd of 50,000-plus hollering, foot-stomping, red-shirted Cardinals fans, then face the most intimidating lineup outside of the IRS investigative department.
"As a reliever, I struggle through two or three guys,'' St. Louis pitcher Steve Kline said. "I can't imagine what it's like for starters who have to face them 25 or 26 or whatever times.''
The Cardinals scored a league-high 855 runs. They had three players -- Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- each hit .300 with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs, which only three previous teams in big-league history had ever done. Some worried that the Cardinals would have trouble getting back into the swing of things following a lull when they clinched the division (shortly after spring training) but Pujols homered in the first inning, Larry Walker homered twice and the Cardinals tied a postseason record with five home runs in their 8-3 victory.
"The fans are getting into the home run thing,'' said Edmonds, who homered in a five-run third inning. "I hope they don't get disappointed when we string together singles and have to play the game the right way.''
That's the way the Cardinals played it back in the old days. When the Cardinals last won the World Series (1982), they hit 67 home runs the entire season, with only George Hendrick (19) and Darrell Porter (12) reaching double-figures. That's only 21 more home runs than Pujols hit this year (and three less than Mark McGwire hit in 1998). St. Louis hit five home runs the entire 1982 postseason (10 games), a total it matched in the seventh inning when Walker blasted his second of the afternoon.
In other words, the game has changed a bit since the days when MTV showed videos.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates how potent the Cardinals are than this -- Walker is a three-time batting champ, a career .314 hitter and the 1997 MVP and yet he bats in the No. 2 slot normally reserved for the little guy willing to take pitches, bunt and slap grounders to the right side of the infield. But then, as Pujols asked, "Where would you bat him?''
"It does summarize our lineup when you have Larry batting second. It tells you about our depth,'' said Reggie Sanders, who has played with just about every team in his career. Unlike the Barry Bonds-dominated lineup he was in with the 2002 Giants, "You have to pitch to everyone here. It's definitely the best lineup I've been part of.''
Up until the August trade that brought him to St. Louis, Walker spent his entire career up until August in Montreal and Colorado, so he doesn't have a lot of postseason experience (the Rockies lost in four games in the Division Series nine long years ago in his only other appearance). His Octobers are normally spent fishing in British Columbia. "My mind is off baseball -- I'm fishing,'' he said. "When you've got a 30-pound salmon on your line, it takes a lot of concentration.''
Game 1 was never in doubt after the Cardinals scored five runs in the third inning after Dodgers starter Odalis Perez retired the first two batters. One moment there were two outs with nobody on and Los Angeles was a pitch away from being out of the inning trailing just 1-0 and the next thing you knew, the Cardinals had scored five runs. "You would like to think that when you have two out, nobody on base, you can keep them from putting a five spot up there,'' Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said.
The Dodgers have the league's best closer and they were the National League's best at late-game rallies (a league-high 53 come-from-behind wins, including overcoming three-run and four-run deficits during the final week of the regular season) but to come back in this series they'll have to find a way to shut down the St. Louis offense enough that Eric Gagne can be a factor instead of an observer.
"If there was one thing about today that I would like to have back, it's to put a zero up in the third inning and see where that would have taken us,'' Tracy said. "But our momentum can be recreated on Thursday when Jeff Weaver goes out there. I just 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.''
Here that, Dodgers fans? Your Game 1 starter didn't get out of the third inning, your pitchers gave up five home runs in Game 1 and your team hasn't won a postseason game since Don Sutton spent part of the season on the roster but you've got noted big-game pitcher Jeff Weaver going for you in Game 2. Why, he almost had a winning record this season.
Still, the Cardinals have their weaknesses despite having baseball's best record. The starting rotation is a little iffy, what with ace Chris Carpenter out for at least the first round with a bruised nerve in his throwing arm and Game 3 starter Matt Morris is dealing with occasional stiffness in his throwing shoulder.
Of course, with that offense supporting them, the pitchers only need to be so good.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
5hJohn Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information