Cardinals top Padres, leave with 2-0 lead

By The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO – Getting out of September intact was the hard part for the St. Louis Cardinals, who clinched a division title while stuck in reverse.

And the San Diego Padres? Well, after coming into the playoffs with all the confidence in the world – and rare home-field advantage – they may not make it through the weekend.

The Padres appear to be headed for their same old postseason fate against the Cardinals, who won 2-0 on Thursday behind Albert Pujols and reclamation project Jeff Weaver to take a 2-0 lead in the National League division series.

“It’s very big because coming into these playoffs we didn’t really know what to expect,” Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein said.

Well, history suggests the best-of-five series will end Saturday in St. Louis, unless the popgun Padres can find their missing bats. The Padres are hitting an embarrassing .164 in the series, getting just 10 hits and one run so far, while striking out 20 times. They’re 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position and have stranded 13.

The crowd booed after Cardinals rookie closer Adam Wainright retired the side in the ninth.

“We’ve got to get on the board, score some runs,” said San Diego native David Wells, who may have pitched his final big league game. “I think one run in two games isn’t going to cut it. This continues, then you know that’s the end of it.

“Right now, I mean it’s about as flat as it can get,” said the 43-year-old Wells, who plans to retire when the season ends.

St. Louis, which barely avoided one of the biggest September collapses ever, improved to 8-0 in the postseason against San Diego. That includes division series sweeps last year and in 1996.

“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction to come into somebody else’s park and win the first two, especially in the short series,” said Weaver, who used his curveball to baffle a lefty-dominated Padres lineup. “We’re looking forward to getting back home and trying to make the series as short as possible.”

Pujols had three more hits after homering in the 5-1 victory in Game 1. He and Jim Edmonds hit RBI singles off Wells in the fourth inning.

Weaver and four relievers, three of whom are rookies, combined on a four-hitter. Making his second career postseason start, Weaver outpitched Wells, who was making his 17th postseason start and 27th appearance dating to 1989.

Weaver gave up two singles in five innings, allowing only two Padres baserunners as far as second base. He struck out three and walked three.

Aware that the Padres liked fastballs, Weaver didn’t throw very many. San Diego leadoff batter Dave Roberts estimated that more than 50 percent of Weaver’s pitches were curveballs.

“I just wanted to stay away from the extra-base hits and things of that nature and was able to throw a lot of quality breaking balls to keep these guys off-balance,” said Weaver, who dodged jams in the first and fifth.

And to think, Weaver struggled so badly with the Angels this year, going 3-10, that he was traded to make room in their rotation for his younger brother, Jered. But he earned this start by going 4-1 with a 4.03 ERA in eight road starts with St. Louis.

Relievers Randy Flores, Josh Kinney, Tyler Johnson and Wainwright pitched four innings of two-hit ball. Wainwright got the last four outs for the save.

Padres rookie Josh Barfield doubled off Wainwright with two outs in the eighth before Adrian Gonzalez grounded to second.

So why have San Diego’s bats gone AWOL?

“It’s one of those things where we struggle at home offensively,” Brian Giles said. “There’s no sugarcoating it. I wish we had an explanation. We don’t.”

About the only thing the Padres have going now is that they were 45-36 on the road, including winning two of three at St. Louis last week.

“We battled our tails off through September to get here,” said Geoff Blum, who’s filled in for injured shortstop Khalil Greene. “Hopefully, there are some remnants of that floating around and we’ll return to some of the magic in St. Louis.”

San Diego hadn’t lost consecutive games in almost a month.

Wells lost his third straight postseason start, allowing two runs and seven hits in five innings. He struck out two and walked none. Overall, the hefty lefty is 10-5 in the postseason.

The Padres obtained Wells from the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 31, mostly because of his history of postseason success, which included World Series championships with Toronto in 1992 and the Yankees in 1998, when he beat San Diego in Game 1.

Preston Wilson hit Wells’ first pitch of the fourth inning over Roberts’ head in left for a double. The Padres chose to pitch to Pujols, who lined a fastball into left to score Wilson. The Padres caught Pujols in a rundown, but Blum didn’t get over to the bag from shortstop in time and the slugger slid into second.

Pujols took third on Juan Encarnacion’s grounder for the second out and scored on Edmonds’ hit deep to the hole at second. Todd Walker smothered the ball but had no play. Roberts ended the inning with a nice diving catch of Ronnie Belliard’s fly ball.

San Diego has now lost nine straight postseason games dating to its World Series sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees in 1998.

Overall, the Padres haven’t led in a postseason game since being up 3-2 against the Yankees after seven innings of Game 3 of the ’98 Series. Scott Brosius stunned the Padres with a three-run homer off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning – his second shot of the night – and the Yankees won 5-4.

Notes: St. Louis hadn’t blanked a playoff opponent since finishing the 1987 NL championship series with shutout wins against San Francisco in Games 6 and 7. … St. Louis’ rookie-dominated bullpen has thrown 6 2-3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball, with 10 strikeouts and one walk. … Hoffman, baseball’s all-time saves leader, caught the ceremonial first pitch from the man he passed in the record book, Lee Smith. The two also exchanged autographed baseballs.