Posted: Tuesday October 5, 2004 8:10PM; Updated: Wednesday October 6, 2004 12:48PM
Adrian Beltre's two hits weren't enough to spark the Dodgers' offense.
ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers absolutely love the team persona that they nurtured throughout the long regular season, the never-say-die, don't-count-us-out, play-'til-the-end Comeback King thing.
It shows pluck, you know? It shows grit. It shows that the Dodgers, a postseason team with more flaws than most, can win even when people expect that they can't.
The problem, of course, is that some things are harder to rebound from than others. Coming back against the Rockies and Giants, for instance, is a heck of a lot easier than coming back against a team like ... oh, say, the Cardinals.
If the Dodgers didn't realize that before Tuesday, they do now.
"They got a good team," a stunned Odalis Perez said after the Cardinals jumped out to a 7-0 lead Tuesday afternoon and laughed their way to an 8-3 win in the first game of this National League Division Series. "I don't really know what happened."
This one really wasn't all that tough to figure out. The Cardinals, the best team in baseball during the regular season, mauled Perez early and often, touching him for three home runs.
And then the best lineup this side of the Gas House Gang beat up on a couple of Dodgers relievers, too. By the time they got done, the Cardinals' pitchers were in such control of the game that they easily put the kibosh on any thoughts the Dodgers might have had of any silly comeback.
Yes, L.A. scored a run in the fifth and one in the sixth, and Dodgers catcher Tom Wilson punched out a solo home run in the ninth. But the Comeback King barely stirred in this one. The Cardinals wouldn't even let him come to the plate.
"They overpowered us," said the Dodgers' third baseman, the NL MVP-like Adrian Beltre, who had two of L.A.'s nine hits. "I think they have the best lineup in the big leagues. One through seven, they're pretty tough."
What the Cardinals don't have, as the nitpickers point out, is a strong starting rotation, with a couple of aces, or near-aces, at the top. But they have good, effective starters -- as they've shown all season -- who can keep a game close while the lineup builds a lead.
Woody Williams was more than good enough against the Dodgers. He wasn't great, granted. The Dodgers had two singles in the first inning, the leadoff man on in the second inning and a one-out single in the third. They had their chances. Williams labored on 116 pitches in his six innings on the mound.
But then he handed over a 7-2 lead to one of the best bullpens in baseball. Game, as they say, over.
"I can't remember the last time we had a lead," Dodgers right fielder Milton Bradley said.
The Dodgers have come from behind in 53 of their 93 wins this season. In 13 of their past 14 wins, in fact, they've risen from the near-dead, including that NL West clincher on Saturday, when they scored seven runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Giants.
But that was then. These are the playoffs.
"It's going to be harder. ... They have more pitching in the playoffs, the bullpens are better, so it's going to be harder," Beltre said. "But we still believe."
The Dodgers are not out of this thing by any measure. This was only Game 1, after all, in this best-of-five NLDS. After a day off, the teams play again Thursday night at Busch Stadium before heading to L.A. for Game 3 on Saturday. "We lost the game," Perez pointed out. "We haven't lost the series."
Still, the Dodgers know that they'll have to do just about everything right to hang with the Cardinals in this one. No big innings for the other guys, like the five-run job they allowed in the third on Tuesday. Timely hitting, like they didn't get in Game 1. Errorless play.
And the whole Comeback King thing? They're going to have to lose it. Bury it. File it away as a regular-season fad and start playing with that same sense of urgency from the first pitch.
If the Dodgers can do that, we'll be talking Comeback Emperors.