Home runs undo Perez, Dodgers

Home runs undo Perez, Dodgers

ST. LOUIS -- More than half of the roster has turned over for the Dodgers since they visited Busch Stadium last October, but the results Monday night were unchanged.

Albert Pujols still owned Odalis Perez and the Cardinals still beat the Dodgers, 4-2, as Mark Mulder matched a career high with 12 strikeouts and the Dodgers stranded 10 base runners.

Pujols homered twice off Perez to drive in all of his team's runs, which is only a little better than his normal production against the Dodgers left-hander. Including last year's playoffs, which also opened with a first-inning Pujols homer, the extraordinary slugger is 10-for-15 with five home runs, two doubles and four walks in his career against Perez.

That's a slugging percentage of 1.800, meaning Perez would come out much better if he just walked Pujols every time he sees him.

Perez said he actually tried that in the fifth inning, when Pujols came up with the game tied, one out and runners on first and third. Perez threw two balls and got a called strike, followed by ball three.

But Pujols punched the 3-1 pitch on the outside corner inches foul down the first-base line. With two strikes, Perez shifted strategy and came inside, but Pujols sent the 3-2 pitch inches foul down the third-base line. Perez then hung a changeup and Pujols launched it over the center-field wall for his ninth homer of the season.

"I did try to do that [walk him]," said Perez. "When he has the opportunity to see men in scoring position, you know he wants to drive in runs. He wants to hurt you bad. With two strikes, I wanted to get him out and I threw the pitch I want, but he's a great hitter."

Manager Jim Tracy said he puts Pujols pretty much in the same category as Barry Bonds.

"He's obviously a devastating offensive player," said Tracy. "He's pretty much the complete package."

Tracy said, however, he is hesitant to give Pujols the free pass with the frequency he employs for Bonds because the lineup that follows Pujols -- Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Reggie Sanders -- packs more punch than the Giants'.

Perez said he thought Tracy might ask him to walk Pujols in that situation, but was glad he didn't.

"I was happy the manager had confidence in me to challenge him," said Perez. "He believes in my stuff."

In accentuating the positive, Tracy noted that other than the home runs, Perez had a pretty good start by comparison to the double playoff nightmare of October.

"He responded very well," Tracy said. "He gave us six solid innings."

Perez said he had put last year's postseason nightmare out of his mind.

"Whatever's in the past is in the past," Perez said. "I didn't think this was a bad game for me. You make a mistake to a guy like Pujols, you're going to pay for it. It's not only against me. He hit 46 home runs and was second in the MVP [race]. He's one of the best hitters in baseball. He hits me good, but it won't be forever. Maybe I'll find a way to get him out."

Tracy not only had a starter on the mound that imploded against the Cardinals twice in the playoffs (14.40 ERA), he also was short-handed in his starting lineup and on the bench.

With outfielder J.D. Drew sick, new infielder Oscar Robles in transit from Mexico and a 12-man pitching staff, Tracy managed this game with a three-man bench. His starting lineup included rookies Jason Repko and Mike Edwards, and reserves Ricky Ledee and Olmedo Saenz.

And they had to face Mulder. They countered Pujols' first-inning homer with Cesar Izturis' fifth-inning RBI double, one of his three hits. They scored an unearned run in the eighth inning on Ricky Ledee's RBI single off Ray King.

That's lefty vs. lefty, and Tracy did that two other times, using left-handed pinch-hitters Jason Grabowski and Hee-Seop Choi against left-handed pitchers because he had not choice.

"That's not necessarily why we got beat," Tracy said.

The Dodgers were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, which had more to do with it. They remain in first place, but are 7-10 since their high-water mark of 12-2. This game was the first of a 19-game stretch against teams that entered play Monday night with a winning percentage of .500 or better.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.