10/06/05 7:00 PM ET
San Diego struggles to find big hit
Astacio gives up four runs, two earned, in four innings
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"It's part of the game," Astacio said. "Everybody played hard behind me. Things happen in this game, and you try to pick each other up. We can't worry about this game now. It's over. We have to get ready for Saturday and see what happens."After loading the bases with one out in the second inning against Mulder, only to have rookie Ben Johnson strike out and Astacio bounce back to Mulder, the Padres once again experienced the third-inning blues. It was reminiscent of Game 1, when the Cards scored three times against Jake Peavy to carve a 4-0 lead without hitting a ball hard. This time, Astacio walked Abraham Nunez on a full count leading off and induced catcher Yadier Molina to ground sharply to shortstop Khalil Greene on what looked like a double play. But the ball jumped up on Greene and bounded away off his chest for an error. "Sometimes you try to assess it and see what you could have done differently," Greene said. "I don't think I could have done anything differently on that play." After Mulder sacrificed the runners along with two strikes, David Eckstein stroked a two-strike grounder wide of first. Xavier Nady backhanded the ball and come up throwing, but Nunez slid safely under Hernandez's tag. A walk to Jim Edmonds loaded the bases, and another walk to Albert Pujols forced home Molina. Astacio struck out Larry Walker and Reggie Sanders to avoid further damage. The Cards added a pair of runs in the fourth. Mark Grudzielanek singled and took third when Nunez doubled over Johnson's head in right, the ball bounding over the wall. "It was kind of dark out there," said Johnson, who was in shadows as the ball soared his way. "I lost it and picked it up at the last second -- too late. I misplayed the ball. I believe I should make that play." Coupled with the strikeout with the bases loaded, it made for a rough playoff debut for the young man from Memphis. "Bad day to have a bad game, I guess," Johnson said, softly. When Molina grounded to Nady, the first baseman again came home, but Grudzielanek beat his high throw. Eckstein's squeeze bunt plated Nunez for a 4-0 lead. After Clay Hensley shut down the Cards in the fifth and sixth, the Padres stirred in the seventh. Greene, who'd walked and singled previously, doubled to right-center leading off and took third on Joe Randa's single to center. After Nady singled home Greene, pinch-hitter Miguel Olivo grounded into a double play started by Grudzielanek at second. It was the fourth of the day by St. Louis, tying an NLDS record. "I hit the ball pretty good," Olivo said, "but the second baseman was too close to the base. We've hit a lot of balls so hard, but most of the time right at guys. We need more luck." After Damian Jackson was hit by a pitch, right-hander Julian Tavarez was summoned to replace Mulder. Ryan Klesko batted for Eric Young and flied to left, ending the threat. The Cards extended the lead in the seventh against Rudy Seanez. Edmonds walked leading off and took third on Pujols' hit-and-run single, both men scoring on Reggie Sanders' one-out double into the left-field corner. Showing their late resolve, just as they had in Game 1 with three ninth-inning runs, the Friars put together singles by Hernandez and Randa in the eighth along with a walk by Giles to score a run when Tarvarez hit Nady with a pitch. Southpaw Flores was called to relieve Tavarez, and he struck out Sweeney to quell the uprising. "We're just missing the big hit to keep the rallies going," Bochy mused. If the Padres can't change the script at home on Saturday night, they'll watch the adept, opportunistic Cardinals dance off to the NLCS.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.