Cardinals 8, Dodgers 3

-- Larry Walker is back in the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, and he's making the most of his second shot.

In the Cardinals' playoff opener, the three-time batting champion led the hit parade. Walker homered twice and St. Louis tied a postseason record by hitting five home runs, overwhelming Odalis Perez and the Los Angeles Dodgers in an 8-3 blowout Tuesday.

"It was a lot of fun out there today to see the packed house and everybody in red," Walker said. "It was a good feeling."

Walker, acquired in August from the Colorado Rockies, made his only other postseason appearance in 1995, batting .214 for Colorado in a first-round loss to Atlanta.

Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds and Mike Matheny, who've been part of three postseason teams in four years with St. Louis, also connected.

Add in a strong six-inning performance from Woody Williams and the Cardinals looked every bit as dominating as they did in leading the majors with 105 wins and leading the NL in runs and batting average.

The game was a slugfest, exactly what Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy had hoped to avoid.

The Dodgers, who set a franchise record with 53 come-from-behind victories, fell so far behind they couldn't recover. A five-run third, all of the runs scoring with two outs, was the key.

"Two runs is nice, but getting five runs is just unbelievable," Williams said. "Especially in a game of this magnitude."

Los Angeles still hasn't won a postseason game since it beat the Oakland Athletics managed by Tony La Russa in the 1988 World Series. The Dodgers were swept in the first round by Atlanta in 1996 and Cincinnati in 1995.

Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Thursday night at Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals also swept the Dodgers in a three-game series in early September. Jason Marquis pitches for St. Louis against Jeff Weaver.

"Our momentum can be recreated," Tracy said. "I just really feel like, if we get adequate starting pitching, we have a good chance to hang in the series for quite a while and possibly win it."

The Cardinals clinched the NL Central on Sept. 18 before ending the season on cruise control, going 8-7 while La Russa seldom used his regular lineup. The finish featured the team's only four-game losing streak of the year, causing some consternation among Cardinals fans.

"It was harder to get there because we had the championship clinched, and we had to manufacture momentum and motivation," La Russa said. "The edge was back today because all of a sudden everything stands zero-zero."

When they again got to play a game that mattered, they pulled away quickly, hammering Perez for three homers in 22/3 innings.

Matheny connected off Elmer Dessens in the fourth to make it 7-0, giving the Cardinals a chance to cruise a bit again. After the Dodgers cut the deficit to 7-2, Walker homered again off Giovanni Carrara in the seventh.

"I don't know about that so-called switch that was turned off," Matheny said. "We respect the game way too much to think that we have enough ability to turn a switch off and then be able to play at our peak ability by turning it back on."

St. Louis is one of four teams to hit five homers in a postseason game, joining the 1984 Chicago Cubs (NLCS), the 1928 New York Yankees (World Series) and the 1989 Athletics (World Series).

Perez has complained about the lack of run support after getting a franchise-record 18 no-decisions this season. He couldn't complain this time.

Two of the biggest hits came on consecutive at-bats from players whose performance dragged at the finish.

Edgar Renteria, 3 for 21 in his last six games, had a two-run double in the five-run third that broke open the game. Edmonds, who entered the postseason in a 1-for-29 slump, followed with a two-run homer to chase Perez.

Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez reacts after giving up a third-inning homer to the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds.