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 scored and RBI and the bullpen overcame Randy Wolf's short start with 5 1/3 solid 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.
The Dodgers came into this series considered the underdog, despite winning more games than any team in the league and possessing 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.
This was no pitchers' duel, as the clubs combined to strand a playoff-record 30 runners. The Dodgers won in large part by making Carpenter work, running up his pitch count to triple figures by his fifth and final inning. 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.
Then the Dodgers turned a lead over to their bullpen, albeit much earlier than they would have liked. 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. Then he thwarted the team he helped pitch to a World Series title three years ago.
Weaver (1 1/3 innings) was the bridge to the celebrated hard-throwing back end of the Dodgers' bullpen -- Ronald Belisario, Hong-Chih Kuo, George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton, who recorded a four-out save.
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 likely MVP Pujols. He caught Matt Holliday looking and appeared to get Ryan 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.
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.
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.
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 in the bullpen. 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, who got Ludwick on a comebacker one pitch after his bid for extra bases down the left-field line landed just foul.
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.