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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS | NATIONAL LEAGUE

Carpenter nails the win

Cardinals pitcher continues his dominance in playoffs in a 5-1 victory over Padres. San Diego's Peavy gives up all five runs, including two-run homer to Pujols.

October 04, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Considering the way they had staggered into the playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals could have called it "Winning a Division Title for Dummies."

The Cardinals made it to the postseason despite losing more games than they won in their division and dropping nine of their final 12 regular-season games. Their late-season slide triggered a surreal scene at Busch Stadium on Sunday, when fans broke into an impromptu Tomahawk Chop to thank the Atlanta Braves for eliminating Houston from playoff contention.

But St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa devised a seemingly foolproof plan for winning Game 1 of his team's National League Division Series, holding ace Chris Carpenter out of the regular-season finale so that he could start the playoff opener.

Carpenter rewarded his manager with 6 1/3 superb innings, and Albert Pujols blasted a two-run home run Tuesday afternoon at Petco Park to propel St. Louis to a 5-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. Game 2 is Thursday afternoon.

"Our two best players came out and did what they do," center fielder Jim Edmonds said.

Carpenter gave up five hits and one run and wriggled out of several jams, including one in the fourth inning with runners on first and second and nobody out. The right-hander struck out seven and walked one.

"Our club plays better when he pitches," La Russa said of Carpenter, who is 3-0 lifetime with a 1.98 earned-run average in the playoffs. "Nobody in the league is better than he is."

The same could be said for Pujols, whose fourth-inning homer on a full count gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead five pitches after he had hit a foul popup that landed near the backstop. Padres catcher Mike Piazza appeared to be closing in on the ball but couldn't make the catch after stumbling at the last moment.

"Obviously, I need it to get made," San Diego starter Jake Peavy said of the play. "Just a popup."

Peavy then threw a cut fastball to Pujols, who hit it an estimated 422 feet into the Padres' bullpen beyond the left-center field wall.

"It wasn't a bad pitch to most hitters," Piazza said, "but to him it was."

St. Louis eventually built a 5-0 lead against Peavy, who gave up 11 hits and all five runs while being rocked in a postseason opener for a second consecutive year. Every Cardinals starter, including Carpenter, registered a hit or scored a run.

San Diego finally scored in the sixth on Brian Giles' sacrifice fly and seemed poised for more in the seventh when Russell Branyan tripled with one out and Mike Cameron walked. St. Louis reliever Tyler Johnson hit pinch-hitter Josh Bard with his first pitch to load the bases before striking out pinch-hitter Mark Bellhorn for the second out.

Todd Walker then hit a sharp grounder that second baseman Ronnie Belliard corralled in shallow right field on a spectacular play before throwing to Pujols to end the inning.

"In my mind, I said, 'I've got to get to that ball,' " said Belliard, whose teammates presented him with a game ball in the clubhouse afterward in appreciation. "I was playing that way already [toward the hole], but I think I got lucky on that one."

Said Edmonds: "Biggest play of the year. If that's a two-run single right there, we're in trouble."

Johnson and fellow rookie reliever Adam Wainwright recorded the final eight outs -- four by strikeout -- to provide a big lift for a Cardinals team playing without injured closer Jason Isringhausen.

"It was just like yesterday and the day before that," Wainwright said of pitching in the playoffs. "It didn't feel any different."

Thankfully for the Cardinals, the results were quite different.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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