SAN DIEGO (AP) -- With one swing of Albert Pujols' bat, a St.
Louis Cardinals lineup that looked so sickly in September suddenly
got a lot better under the California sun.
San Diego Padres ace Jake Peavy tempted Pujols with one pitch
too many and the slugger, who has a shot at a second straight NL
MVP award, responded with a two-run homer that launched the
Cardinals to a 5-1 victory in the opening game of the division
series on Tuesday.
Everything went well for the Cardinals, from the second chance
Pujols got when catcher Mike Piazza couldn't catch his foul ball to
having ace Chris Carpenter fresh for the playoff opener, the result
of manager Tony La Russa's gamble in keeping him out of Sunday's
Even though they enjoyed home-field advantage for the first time
in the opening round, San Diego still can't beat the Cardinals in
October. The three-time NL Central champion Cardinals have won
seven straight postseason games against the Padres, including
division series sweeps last year and in 1996.
Tuesday's win started with Pujols' impressive drive in the
fourth inning that broke a scoreless tie. Pujols connected on
Peavy's eighth pitch.
"What an at-bat," St. Louis leadoff hitter David Eckstein
said. "Being able to foul off pitches, take some pitches and then
do what he did, that ignited the whole club."
Peavy was hoping for far better results than Game 1 of last
year's playoff series, when he lost 8-5 to Carpenter at St. Louis
while pitching with two broken ribs. Peavy hurt himself when he
jumped on Trevor Hoffman's head while celebrating the Padres'
division title several days earlier.
Pujols, though, reminded Peavy and the Padres just how dangerous
of a hitter he is. Peavy left a full-count cut fastball over the
plate and Pujols drove it an estimated 422 feet into the Padres'
bullpen beyond the fence in left-center.
Center fielder Mike Cameron climbed halfway up the fence in a
futile effort at Pujols' 11th career postseason homer, which hushed
the sellout crowd of 43,107 at Petco Park. Chris Duncan was aboard
on a leadoff single.
On Monday, Peavy and manager Bruce Bochy talked about letting
the situation dictate whether they pitched to Pujols, or put him
"I don't think about if they're going to pitch to me because I
want to be aggressive," Pujols said. "If I start thinking a lot
of things like that, that's going to take my aggression away. I
just take whatever they give me, you know. And if they give me a
good pitch today, I'm going to try to put my best swing and
hopefully help my team out to win."
Peavy knew he had little margin for error.
"It was a cutter that was right down the middle," Peavy said.
"Yeah, those go wrong a lot."
The at-bat was kept alive when Piazza got a late jump on Pujols'
foul pop and couldn't catch it at the screen.
Pujols thought the ball was heading for the stands. Piazza
couldn't tell if the ball hit the screen on the way down, but
added: "I felt like I should have made the play. I really don't
have an excuse. It's just one of those things that when you get a
situation like that, we need a break to get an out like that."
Pujols hit a three-run homer off Padres rookie reliever Cla
Meredith last Wednesday in a 4-2 win at St. Louis that may have
saved the Cardinals' season. St. Louis lost nine of its last 12
Overall, the two-time NL West champion Padres have lost eight
straight postseason games dating to 1998, when they were swept in
the World Series by the New York Yankees.
Game 2 is Thursday afternoon, when 43-year-old San Diego native
David Wells is scheduled to start for the Padres against Jeff
While Peavy struggled -- he left to a mixture of boos and light
applause in the sixth -- Carpenter, the reigning NL Cy Young winner,
kept the Padres' suspect offense off-balance with his curveball,
limiting San Diego to one run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He
struck out seven and walked one.
Carpenter was pitching for the first time since losing 7-5 to
the Padres at St. Louis a week earlier. La Russa gambled on Sunday
and held Carpenter out of the regular-season finale in case the
right-hander would have been needed Monday in the makeup of a
rainout against the Giants. But that became moot when Atlanta beat
Houston, giving the Cards the NL Central title.
"If there's a way of pitching him today, our club plays better
when he pitches," La Russa said. "Nobody in the league is better
than he is."
Carpenter made adjustments and got out of jams.
"My stuff was good," he said. "My location was good. And my
breaking ball was very good."
The Padres came into this series more confident and healthier
than the Cardinals, who backed into the playoffs after barely
avoiding one of the worst September collapses ever.
But, said Padres leadoff hitter Dave Roberts, "Those guys have
a lot of confidence when it comes to the postseason. They've had a
lot of success. Today was definitely evidence."
Down 5-0, San Diego finally broke through against Carpenter in
the sixth. Roberts legged out a one-out triple to the left-center
gap, his third hit, and scored on Brian Giles' sacrifice fly.
The Padres had two big scoring chances and came away empty,
including loading the bases with one out in the seventh, when they
chased Carpenter but couldn't score. Second baseman Ronnie Belliard
made a sensational diving stop of Todd Walker's grounder and threw
him out to end the seventh.
Carpenter also got out of a jam in the fourth after allowing two
singles opening the inning.
Edmonds hit an RBI single for the Cardinals in the fifth and
Yadier Molina's RBI base hit in the sixth gave St. Louis a 5-0 lead
and chased Peavy.
Peavy allowed five runs 11 hits in 5 1/3 innings, struck out two
and walked one.
All the Cardinals regulars except Eckstein had a hit off
Peavy. Carpenter had a single, too. ... Ryan Klesko and Chan Ho
Park both made San Diego's postseason despite regular-season health
issues. Klesko pinch-hit in the ninth and hit a fly ball for the
final out. Park pitched the eighth.