Padres thrown 0-2 curve by Cardinals
Fastball-hungry Friars held to four hits in Game 2 loss
SAN DIEGO -- Sometimes you win, sometimes you get the blues -- the St. Louis blues, in the case of the Padres.If they don't shake this Cardinals-induced funk quickly -- as in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on Saturday -- the Padres will bid farewell to a 2006 postseason that seemed to hold such promise just a few days ago. The Redbirds -- fortified by Albert Pujols' matchless bat, superior defense and an astonishing array of slow breaking balls thrown for strikes -- retained their October stranglehold on the Padres, moving to within one win of the National League Championship Series with Thursday's 2-0 decision in Game 2 of the NLDS in front of 43,463 at PETCO Park. David Wells yielded two runs in five innings, falling to 10-5 in 27 career postseason appearances. Big-game hunter Boomer hopes this wasn't his final October fling at 43. "How do I want to be remembered if this is my last game?" Wells said, repeating a question. "Gamer. Bottom line." The scene shifts to the new Busch Stadium, where the Padres will try to avert their third straight postseason sweep at the Cards' hands with road master Chris Young -- unbeaten in his past 24 road starts -- facing Jeff Suppan in Game 3. San Diego is 0-8 against St. Louis in three playoff series, but as recently as last week, the Padres took two in a row from the Cards at the new Busch -- and were on the verge of sweeping when Cla Meredith threw a sinker that Pujols elevated halfway to Chicago. Merv Rettenmund, the Padres' hitting coach since mid-June, knows this is not a normal baseball club. The Padres led the league in hitting on the road (.279) but were last at home (.245), with a slugging percentage 65 points higher away from PETCO. "We're [going] on the road -- and honest to God, I think that's to our advantage," Rettenmund said after watching his guys flail away at curves and sliders thrown by Jeff Weaver and four relievers. "They did a good job of speeding up our bats inside, and then throwing strikes away in these two games," Padres second baseman Todd Walker said. "Hard in, soft away. Every hitter knows that routine. They hit their spots with A-plus pitching. Good pitching always stops good hitting." The Padres leave PETCO Park behind having produced one run on a total of 10 hits in the two games, while Team Pujols was delivering seven runs on 22 hits. Like Chris Carpenter in Game 1, Weaver -- known as a hard thrower who would show the breaking ball -- leaned heavily on big, slow curveballs to keep the fastball-hitting Padres off balance -- and off the scoreboard. The frustration began in the first when catcher Josh Bard, the Padres' hottest hitter down the stretch, tapped out to first to leave Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez, each having walked, stranded. "That first inning, two walks, I said, 'Oh my goodness, if we just stay in there -- one hit and we're off and rolling,'" Rettenmund said.
Alas, that hit arrived when Mike Cameron singled leading off the second, and he was doubled up on a ground ball."For some strange reason," Cameron said, shaking his head, "they made some quality pitches when they needed them. I try not to look at all the equations that come into play, but we need to find a way to be more productive." The equation that had just been mentioned was a historical matter of no National League team in the 12 years of NLDS play coming back from 0-2 to win. It has happened twice in the American League, and Walker was part of one of those teams, the 2003 Red Sox, who stunned the A's. "That was actually a very similar situation," said Walker, hitless in two at-bats against Weaver. "The A's had a great pitching staff that kind of shut us down the first two games. But then we won the third game and got it going, and we won three straight.
"This team is capable of doing that. We just have to bring our A-game to St. Louis, the way the Cardinals did here. We know we can beat them twice in a row; we just did that. And I almost think this team would rather play on the road."Giles' 400-foot out to left-center, handled by Jim Edmonds on the road, in the third inning was symbolic of the club's ongoing issues at home. The Padres' PETCO frustration peaked in the fifth inning after a two-out walk by Geoff Blum and pinch-hitter Ryan Klesko's single to left, the second San Diego hit. Dave Roberts, seeing nothing but curves, ran the count to 2-2 before swinging through another big bender to shut down the threat. That marked the end of day for Weaver and also for Wells, the big lefty having departed for Klesko. Meredith, Clay Hensley and Scott Linebrink shut down the Cards the rest of the way. A double play tapped into by Pujols got Wells out of the first unscathed. In the second, Juan Encarnacion was thrown out at home by Roberts on a single by Ronnie Belliard. Taking the throw on a short hop and tagging Encarnacion was Bard. "I honestly felt we were going to get something going after that play," Roberts said. "We had momentum. But you have to tip your hat. They made some great pitches." The Cards broke through in the fourth when Preston Wilson's line drive soared over Roberts' glove in left for a leadoff double. Pitching to the game's best hitter with first base open, Wells watched him stroke a two-strike fastball to left to score Wilson. When San Diego botched a rundown, Pujols reached second, scoring when Walker couldn't make a throw after smothering Edmonds' infield hit behind second with a dive. "I'm playing him to pull there," Walker said. "I got to the ball, but couldn't find the handle. If I could have found the handle on the ball, I'd have stayed on the ground and thrown it. It could have been close, but I don't know if we'd have gotten him. "Obviously, it didn't matter, because we couldn't score." Piling up a high early pitch count, Weaver gave way to Randy Flores after five shutout innings, having surrendered two hits and three walks while striking out three. Flores left after Gonzalez's two-out single in the sixth, right-hander Josh Kinney striking out Bard on a slider down and in. After Josh Barfield, who entered in the sixth as a pinch-hitter for Walker, smacked a double with two outs in the eighth against Adam Wainwright -- the Padres' only extra-base hit -- Gonzalez grounded to second. Wainwright set down the side in order in the ninth. "This team's not going to quit," San Diego's conscience, Giles, was saying on the way to St. Louis.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.