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Kemp, bullpen pull through for Dodgers

Kemp, 'pen pull through for Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers don't have leading candidates for Cy Young or MVP, but they do have something the Cardinals don't have.

A Game 1 victory in their National League Division Series.

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Matt Kemp homered, Rafael Furcal had three hits with a run and RBI and the bullpen overcame Randy Wolf's short start with 5 1/3 innings Wednesday night in a 5-3 Dodgers win over the Cardinals and their Cy Young ace, Chris Carpenter, who had never lost to Los Angeles in six previous starts.

"We wanted to come out and make a statement," Kemp said. "I think everybody was saying we're like the underdogs, but it's just two good teams going at it. We have confidence. Hopefully we made a statement tonight and it's going to be hard to come in here and just try to push us around, because we're ready to go."

The Dodgers did come into this series considered the underdog to a team that beat them five times in seven games during the season, even though the Dodgers won more games than any team in the NL and received the home-field advantage. Then again, they were underdogs in last year's Division Series and swept the Cubs, when Furcal returned from back surgery to hit .333.

"I thought the huge thing was our leadoff hitter, Rafael Furcal," manager Joe Torre said. "And it was just the way we came out of the bullpen. That's our strength. We get to the seventh inning, we feel pretty good about who we have coming in."

This was no pitchers' duel, but it was no slugfest either, as the clubs combined to strand a postseason-record 30 runners. The Dodgers had 16 of them, including leaving the bases loaded three times.

They won nonetheless, in large part by making Carpenter throw strikes and aggressively putting them in play when he did. They ran up his pitch count to triple figures by his fifth and final inning.

THE 1-0 SERIES
The advantage of winning Game 1 of a Division Series is far more pronounced in the National League than in the American League since DS play began in 1995.
Records of teams going up 1-0:
  1. ALDS 14-14
  2. NLDS 25-3
  3. All DS 39-17
  4. All Series 153-84
Teams to come back from 1-0 in NLDS:
  1. 2003 Marlins (won World Series)
  2. 2000 Mets (lost World Series)
  3. 1999 Braves (lost World Series)

They effectively set aside the dangerous Albert Pujols, walking him intentionally twice and getting him on grounders to the left side his other three plate appearances.

"He just scares me," said Torre, explaining his strategy of not letting Pujols beat him, a strategy that included bringing on closer Jonathan Broxton with a man on and two out in the eighth to get Pujols on a bouncer. "He's lethal and he's so calm about it, too. That's what irritates the opposition."

Torre turned the lead over to the bullpen much earlier than normal. Wolf was gone despite a 3-2 lead after 3 2/3 innings, rescued from a bases-loaded jam by Jeff Weaver, who barely made the roster.

"Don Zimmer taught me that this postseason stuff is all about not being patient and doing what you feel you need to do at the time you need to do it," Torre said, explaining the quick removal of Wolf, who was making his postseason debut and is on a short leash from Torre in the best of circumstances.

Weaver got Ryan Ludwick on a comebacker to end the fourth and Torre said there wasn't a bigger out all night, Weaver thwarting the team he helped pitch to a World Series title three years ago. His 1 1/3 innings were the bridge to the celebrated hard-throwing back end of the Dodgers' bullpen -- Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill and Broxton, who recorded a four-out save.

"They were sharper than we were in every area," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.

It didn't start well for the Dodgers. Wolf worked himself into a first-inning mess, loading the bases with no outs on a walk to Skip Schumaker, a ground-rule double by Brendan Ryan and an intentional walk to Pujols. He caught Matt Holliday looking and appeared to get Ludwick on a popup behind second base.

Ronnie Belliard, starting instead of Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson, headed out and Kemp came in as the ball hung in the air. At the last moment, Kemp yielded to Belliard, who tipped the ball with his glove but didn't catch it as a run scored. Belliard made amends on the next batter, ranging up the middle to glove Yadier Molina's sharp bouncer and turning it into an inning-ending double play.

"Ludwick's ball falling probably saved a run," said Wolf. "If the ball is caught, Belliard's not at double-play depth and Molina's ball is a hit. It could have been disastrous. It could have been ugly. I didn't have my command."

Torre suggested that Wolf might have been a little excited in the early innings. The left-hander said he "didn't feel any nerves at all," but couldn't explain why he had so much trouble against St. Louis' left-handed hitters.

Kemp more than made up for his role in the Cardinals run' by following Furcal's single leading off the bottom of the first with a home run to center for a 2-1 Dodgers lead.

"It was a momentum shift and the crowd fed off of it and we fed off the crowd," said Kemp.

The Dodgers added to the lead in the third. With runners on the corners, Casey Blake grounded over the third-base bag. Mark DeRosa made a diving stop and, as Andre Ethier scored from third, DeRosa airmailed the ball into right field trying to erase Manny Ramirez going to second base.

"[Carpenter's] command at times was not as sharp as it usually is and they didn't miss it many times," said La Russa.

But Wolf opened the fourth by walking No. 8 hitter Colby Rasmus, who was bunted to second by Carpenter and doubled home by Schumaker as Weaver started warming up. With two outs Wolf walked Pujols intentionally for the second time. But when he nicked Holliday with a 1-2 pitch he was replaced by Weaver.

Carpenter was back in trouble in the fifth with two on and no outs. After pinch-hitter Juan Pierre's sacrifice bunt, Furcal increased the lead to 4-2 with a sacrifice fly that ended an 11-pitch at-bat. The Dodgers sixth started with Ethier's double, which was cashed in when Kyle McClellan hit Russell Martin with a pitch with the bases loaded.

"We always talk about battling and going out there and having good at-bats and that's what we did tonight," Kemp said. "And that's the key to winning games and working pitchers and just trying to make them go out there and make mistakes. And hopefully we just keep doing that."

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

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