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Pujols sends Dodgers packing
10/10/2004 11:12 PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- This is what Paul DePodesta was afraid of.

Lima Time notwithstanding, the first-year general manager made the ill-fated Brad Penny deadline trade because he feared, in a short series against a legit opponent, the Dodgers' starting rotation couldn't cut it.

Odalis Perez, for the second time in a week, proved him right. Needing a Jose Lima-esque performance in the clutch, Perez left early again and the Dodgers followed him right out of the National League Division Series with a 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night.

"We're the best team in the West, and they're the best team in baseball," said Jayson Werth, whose second home run of the series wasn't enough. "It ended how it was supposed to end, and we can't be too upset about the way things went."

Perez, a free agent who was possibly pitching his last game for the Dodgers, walked five in 2 1/3 innings in duplicating his disappointing start in Game 1, when he lasted just 2 2/3 innings for the loss. The club's shortage of arms forced the Dodgers to go with the right-hander in Game 4, despite Perez's Game 1 performance and 10.97 career ERA against the Cardinals.

"I was trying too hard to do my best," said Perez. "I didn't come through.

"I didn't agree with the decision to come out. We fought, but they were better."

Perez turned the game over to veteran Wilson Alvarez, who escaped one jam only to allow a disastrous three-run homer by Albert Pujols in the fourth inning, a shot that looked like a routine high fly ball but carried into the box seats. Pujols later added a fourth RBI on a single in the seventh inning.

"I had a good fastball tonight and the last time I faced him, I got him out with a changeup. I was worried that he was looking for that pitch again, so I tried a good fastball but he beat me with my best pitch," said a bitterly disappointed Alvarez. "I gave him everything I've got, and he beat me. I feel like I kind of let everybody down, and we lost the game because of it."

In a scene reminiscent of Jack Clark against Tom Niedenfuer and the Cardinals against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series 19 years ago, a raucous record Dodger Stadium crowd fell silent as Pujols' homer fell into the fifth row, beyond Werth's reach.

"I was thinking about climbing on top of the railing," said Werth, "but there was no way."

No way in a game that came down to starting pitching, of which the Dodgers didn't have enough.

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Dodgers first-round playoff exits*:
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"People second-guess me for the Penny trade," said DePodesta, "but I would have liked to have seen how this series would had gone if he had been healthy."

The Dodgers' trademark comeback was nowhere to be found on Sunday. Pujols' homer seemed to drain the fans and club of the energy and enthusiasm that had been so dominant in Game 3. Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan steadied after three shaky innings before going seven to pick up the win. From the third to eighth innings, the southpaw retired 14 consecutive Dodgers.

"It's very difficult to win a baseball game with two runs and three hits," said Dodgers manager Jim Tracy.

On the flip side, Perez walked two in the first inning and never looked confident or comfortable.

"Whether they've got his pitches or what, they've got a good approach against Odalis," said catcher Brent Mayne. "Basically, they're a better team than we are."

Minus Lima's spectacular complete game on Saturday night, Dodgers starters -- namely Perez and Jeff Weaver -- had a 13.03 ERA in the three losses. That's a tough way to win a short series.

This, however, is the way the Dodgers finished the season. Perez and Weaver faltered in September and their October performances continued the trend. Perez, for example, had only one win after Aug. 13, while Weaver won only once after Aug. 26.

The Dodgers emerged from the NL West because they piled up enough wins when their rotation was relatively intact and pulled off just enough comebacks in September to outlast the Giants. But without Hideo Nomo, Kazuhisa Ishii, Penny and Edwin Jackson, the potent St. Louis offense exposed the Dodgers' rotation weaknesses.

"This feeling is not a lot of fun," said Eric Gagne, who pitched the last two innings. "I'll remember this feeling. I don't want to go back to it."

After the final out, in a gesture of sportsmanship arranged by Tracy and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, the teams met on the infield to exchange congratulations.

"It was just a very professional show of class between two very classy organizations," said Tracy.

While handshakes were traded after the game, the teams traded solo homers early, Werth in the bottom of the first and St. Louis' Reggie Sanders in the top of the second.

Following the long balls, Suppan weathered a rough start, walking a pair in the bottom of the second but settling down to keep the runners from scoring. Perez, on the other hand, wasn't as lucky. Larry Walker led off the third with a walk and, one out later, Scott Rolen reached on another free pass. With the runners in motion, Edgar Renteria bounced a 3-2 pitch through the hole vacated between third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Cesar Izturis for an RBI single.

That put the Cardinals ahead and Perez out of the game after walking five on 60 pitches in 2 1/3 innings. In Game 1, Perez was gone after 2 2/3 innings. Alvarez ended the Cards' threat by striking out Edmonds and Sanders.

Suppan pitched Werth carefully with one out in the third and walked him, then fell behind, 2-0, to Steve Finley, whose hit-and-run single sent Werth to third. Beltre's sacrifice fly tied the game at 2.

Suppan started the decisive rally with his second hit of the game, a one-out single. Tony Womack then hit a sinking liner that Milton Bradley caught with a slide, but he bobbled the ball as he was about to throw it in. Right-field umpire Chuck Meriwether ruled it a drop and Suppan was forced at second, with Womack safe at first.

Larry Walker followed with a single up the middle to bring up Pujols, who got enough of a 3-1 fastball to pull for a three-run homer, his second home run of the series.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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