Dodgers Pounded by Old Nemeses -- Pujols

The Dodgers and Cardinals met three times during spring training and St. Louis first baseman Luis Pujols slugged three homers off Los Angeles pitching. In their first meeting of the regular season, the hard-hitting youngster seems to be picking up the pace, banging a pair of homers and driving in all four runs in a 4-2 win at Busch Stadium in front of 37,194 at Busch Stadium.

Pujols also drew a walk in the third inning and now is batting .667 lifetime (8 for 12) against Dodger starter Odalis Perez, his Dominican countryman, with four home runs, 11 RBI, three walks and no strikeouts. That doesn't even count that aforementioned playoff series, when Pujols homered off Perez again.

With two outs in the first, Pujols hit a shot into the bleachers in left-center field, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. The second home run came with one out and runners on the corners in the fifth.

Former Dodger Mark Grudzielanek followed a walk by Perez with a single in front of a diving Jason Repko in right. Perez and Pujols battled deep in the count before Perez (4-3) came up the loser.

The Dodgers had struggled to tie the game after managing just one hit through the first four against Cardinals ace Mark Mulder (5-1). They would scratch out another one off Julian Tavarez in the eighth, but the game ended when Milton Bradley, representing the tying run, took a called third strike from Al Reyes, another former Dodger.

It was the Dodgers' 15th strikeout of the evening, with 12 of them coming against Mulder.

Some feel it might be time to start treating the dangerous Pujols like San Francisco's Barry Bonds, pitching to him only when there is no way to avoid it. But Tracy said that while the question may arise, the answer for now is no.

The Dodgers went just 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 baserunners. Newly acquired infielder Oscar Robles, who was purchased Sunday from the Mexico City Red Devils, wasn't expected to arrive until after the game, and J.D. Drew was sick and unavailable forcing Tracy to use the left-handed-hitting Hee-Seop Choi to hit for Giovanni Carrara in the ninth inning against especially nasty Cardinals reliever Ray King.

The Dodgers (19-12) had chances to respond against Mark Mulder (5-1) and three relievers but they stranded 10 runners and twice in the late innings used left-handed pinch-hitters against left-handed pitchers because no right-handed bats were available. Jason Grabowski struck out with a runner on in the seventh and Hee-Seop Choi struck out to lead off the ninth.

L.A. used a Cesar Izturis' fifth-inning RBI double, one of his three hits, to score their first run. They scored an unearned run in the eighth inning on Ricky Ledee's RBI single.

They have lost six consecutive games at Busch, including all five of their appearances here during last year's regular season and playoffs.

Dodger Blue Notes>--Repko, subbing for ailing J.D. Drew, nearly made the defensive play of the game in the fifth. He slipped on Grudzielanek's single and bobbled the ball off his face, but recovered to make a strong relay to third that nearly nipped the runner. … A disgruntled Nori Nakamura went back to Los Angeles to consult with his agent, faced with a decision whether to accept an assignment back to Triple-A Las Vegas. He said he would gladly go if the Dodgers guaranteed he would return later in the season. … Mike Edwards is playing well at third and the club will probably let Antonio Perez serve out the remainder of his 20-day Minor League rehabilitation assignment with Las Vegas through May 17 and continue his crash course in playing third base. … Eric Gagne was fine after his first rehabilitation assignment in Las Vegas, where he struck out all three Sacramento batters he faced. He will rejoin the Las Vegas 51s for their game in Memphis on Tuesday night and will remain with the club for a two-inning stint Thursday. Then he is expected to rejoin the Dodgers.