Looper tosses seven innings of shutout ball in Cards' win

In control: Giving up just three hits, Looper allowed only one baserunner to reach third.

Unsung hero: So Taguchi served up the big hit with a three-run double in the third. Taguchi entered the game with just one RBI all season.

Figure this: St. Louis has won five of eight after winning just five times in its previous 17 games.

-- ESPN.com news services

Cardinals 5, Padres 0

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Braden Looper finally feels like a starter.

A career reliever, Looper has made the St. Louis Cardinals decision to convert him into a starting pitcher look brilliant.

Looper combined with two relievers on a four-hit shutout, So Taguchi provided a three-run double and the Cardinals beat the San Diego Padres 5-0 on Saturday night.

Looper (5-2) allowed three hits and just one runner to reach third base in seven innings as he lowered his ERA to 2.29.

"I'm becoming a pitcher, not a thrower," Looper said. "It's a process of being confident. Right now, obviously, I'm feeling better. I'm getting better at it."

The defending World Series champions have relied heavily on the one-time reliever. With staff ace Chris Carpenter on the disabled list, Looper has become the Cardinals' most consistent starter. His last four wins have followed a St. Louis loss.

"He's been the most clutch (pitcher) we have," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa.

Looper, making his eighth career start after 572 relief appearances, combined with Russ Springer and Tyler Johnson to hand the Padres their first shutout of the season. Looper walked one and struck out seven.

St. Louis, shut out three times in its previous eight games, staked Looper to a 5-0 lead in the third inning.

"Every time he takes the ball, he's not going to think about us struggling [offensively]," said Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. "He just goes out and pitches and does the job."

Taguchi's bases-clearing double was the big blow off Chris Young (4-3) in the third, when the Cardinals scored all of their runs. Four were unearned after an error by left fielder Terrmel Sledge.

The only jam Looper faced came in the third, when Geoff Blum hit a one-out double and a groundout moved him to third. Looper struck out Sledge looking to end the threat.

"I'm just going to ride it," said Looper of his early-season success. "I hope it last all year long."

Looper went seven innings for the fourth time, and has not allowed a run in 9 2/3 innings at Petco Park.

Young allowed five runs -- one earned -- on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. Young walked four and struck out one. By holding the Cardinals scoreless in the first two innings, Young extended his home scoreless streak to 17 innings.

"I was a little inconsistent," Young said. "I fell behind too much. It was just one of those games."

Looper got St. Louis going in the third inning with a one-out double. A single by Adam Kennedy and a walk to Chris Duncan loaded the bases. Pujols then lifted a fly ball to left-center field that Sledge dropped as he was falling in front of the wall, allowing Looper to score.

"Twilight, it was a little tough to see," Sledge said about his error. "Hey, man, I wish I could take it back. It took us out of the game. No one feels worse than I do."

Pujols got credit for a sacrifice fly and the bases stayed loaded. Jim Edmonds then lifted a sacrifice fly for another run before a walk to Scott Rolen loaded the bases again.

Taguchi lined a shot to left field that Sledge dove for. The ball tipped off his glove and rolled all the way to the wall to clear the bases and give St. Louis a 5-0 lead.

Game notes
Padres 2B Marcus Giles was held out of the Padres starting lineup with a strained oblique suffered in Friday night's game. ... The shutout was the Cardinals' first of the season.