LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers did something Wednesday night they had never previously done. They beat Chris Carpenter.
The Dodgers were right. This was a new season.
They looked like anything but the team that crawled their way to the division title last week, slapping around Carpenter for four runs and nine hits in five innings on their way to a 5-3 victory that gave them a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five National League division series.
Matt Kemp hit a two-run home run in the first inning. Andre Ethier was hit by a pitch in his left toe in the third and later scored on a single by Casey Blake. Rafael Furcal drove in Ronnie Belliard in the fifth on a sacrifice fly.
The Dodgers were on their way.
That Randy Wolf lasted only 32⁄3 innings in his playoff debut was inconsequential.
The Ryan Ludwick fly ball that dropped between Belliard and Kemp in the first inning for a run-scoring single? Also of no importance.
The ball that got by Kemp in the ninth? Bah.
The same was true of the 16 men the Dodgers left on base or how they were2 for 15 with men in scoring position.
So much for the talk of Cardinals having two aces and the Dodgers having none.
A leading candidate to win the Cy Young Award, Carpenter went into the game with a 5-0 record and 2.20 earned-run average against the Dodgers. He beat them twice this season, limiting them to three runs over 15 innings in two starts.
Pressure? What pressure?
Dodgers manager Joe Torre admitted there was plenty of it in the hours leading up to the game, mainly because his team had home-field advantage.
“I think every team that starts at home is expected to win,” he said.
Torre tried to interject some humor, adding, “Do we have to win? No, because I’m going to find words to tell you that it really wasn’t important.”
He didn’t waste any time starting.
“Would you like to win two?” he said. “Sure. But you’re in the postseason, so you’re certainly capable of winning on the road. That doesn’t really concern me.”
But Torre’s players had a look about them that differed from their end-of-the-season demeanor.
The same players who continued to laugh during the five-game losing streak that delayed their coronation as the National League West champions last week suddenly weren’t laughing.
“This is the time to fight now,” Ethier said. “You’re going to do what it takes to win. It’s evident in the regular season, when we had a big opponent that game, the Giants, the Rockies, it was a little bit more businesslike.”
Wolf certainly sensed something was different about this night, which marked his first playoff game in 11 seasons as a major leaguer.
Left-handers batted only .159 against Wolf this season, but he started the game by walking Skip Schumaker, a left-hander. He loaded the bases before recording an out.
By striking out Matt Holliday and forcing Yadier Molina to ground into an inning-ending double play, Wolf managed to limit the damage in the 32-pitch inning to Ludwick’s run-scoring bloop single.
Wolf walked another left-hander, Colby Rasmus, to start the fourth inning and, again, he was punished, this time when Schumaker drove him in with a double.
With two out, the bases loaded and the Dodgers holding a 3-2 edge, Wolf handed the ball to Jeff Weaver, who was told by Torre the previous day that he would be a “situational” reliever in this series.
This particular situation called for 11⁄3 innings of scoreless relief for Weaver, who won a World Series with the Cardinals in 2006.
The Dodgers’ bullpen held the Cardinals to one run over the final 51⁄3 innings.
Ronald Belisario pitched a perfect sixth inning. The Dodgers extended their lead to 5-2 in that bottom of the inning when Russell Martin was drilled in the back by Kyle McClellan with the bases loaded.
Hong-Chih Kuo gave up a pair of two-out hits in the seventh but struck out Troy Glaus to get out of the pinch.
Sherrill got two outs in the eighth, setting the stage for a four-out save by Jonathan Broxton, who entered the game an inning early to get Albert Pujols to ground out to third.
The Cardinals were three for 13 with men in scoring position, the last of those hits being a ninth-inning line drive by Mark DeRosa that turned into a run-scoring double when it dipped under the glove of an onrushing Kemp in center field.
The combined 30 men left on base in the game set a new NLDS record.