© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
ST. LOUIS -- The Padres like to joke about the "evil Chris Young," the one who shows up on certain days with a game face that would frighten children on Halloween. This Young is nothing at all like the laid-back, easy-smiling, easy-rolling Texan they see most days.
"It's all business on days he's pitching, and we like to stay away from him," catcher Mike Piazza said. "C.Y. is just an ultra-competitive guy."
Piazza had just helped guide the former Princeton basketball star through the performance of his baseball life in Saturday's 3-1 decision by the Padres over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
One loss away from the offseason, manager Bruce Bochy's troupe forced a Game 4 on Sunday, Woody Williams facing Cards ace Chris Carpenter with a chance to return the series to San Diego for a deciding fifth game on Monday.
Given a lead for the first time in the series courtesy of Russell Branyan's two-run double in the fourth inning and Geoff Blum's sacrifice fly against Jeff Suppan, Young and the Padres' bullpen tenaciously held their ground in front of 46,634 at Busch Stadium.
In subduing the Redbirds, Young and reliever Scott Linebrink kept the great Albert Pujols silent in four at-bats, twice retiring him in situations where he could have turned the game upside down with one of his majestic drives.
The last tense moment arrived in the eighth after Linebrink yielded a homer to pinch-hitter So Taguchi and then walked Chris Duncan with one out.
As the crowd readied for another piece of Pujols magic, the slugger took a strike and then bounced a second slider to third for an inning-ending double play started by Blum.
Trevor Hoffman closed the deal in familiar fashion, getting three outs on just seven pitches, only one of those his trademark changeup.
"I guess it wouldn't be an inning for me if I didn't have everybody over there biting their fingers off," Linebrink said, grinning. "I keep it interesting."
A similar moment for Young had come in the sixth. With one out, David Eckstein singled and Duncan walked on a full count. Up stepped Pujols with a chance to tie the game, the crowd rising in anticipation -- and down went Pujols, swinging through a high fastball on a 2-2 count.
Jim Edmonds then sent a drive to deep left-center that left fielder Dave Roberts caught running into the fence.
"Doc got a great jump, and he was fighting the sun out there," Young said. "That was a great play he made."
Bochy had visited Young with Pujols coming up, the 6-foot-10 right-hander having retired the reigning NL MVP on a line drive to right and a strikeout his first two at-bats.
"I told Boch I felt as good as I did early," Young said. "He asked me if I wanted a shot at him, and I said I'd like to take my chances."
Ignoring some back pain that had resurfaced along the way, Young altered his pattern on Pujols. After delivering a called strike, Young released an 0-1 fastball that moved Pujols off the plate. Another fastball inside hit Pujols' bat as he tried to check his swing, and then Young went up and away with another fastball.
Rubbing the ball and pondering the moment, Young reached back for a high fastball that Pujols couldn't find with his fearsome stroke.
"He'll throw any pitch any time," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said of Young, who held the Cards to three hits and one run in seven innings in his final regular-season start. "He's deceptive; he works all parts of the zone. It's really quality pitching, really tough for guys to get on him."
Pujols had raved about Young's stuff after going 1-for-3 against him on Sept. 27 at Busch.
"A guy like Pujols, you've got to move him around, make him move his feet -- get him out of his comfort zone," Padres center fielder Mike Cameron said.
Young and Piazza were in agreement.
"I hadn't pitched him inside until that last at-bat," Young said. "I stayed inside and got him to chase up. If it's 2-0 instead of 2-2, maybe he lays off it. I was mixing pitches back and forth, in and out, up and down, anything to keep him off balance."
It helps, too, having a catcher who has been as feared with the bat as Pujols over a distinguished career.
"You're not looking to low-bridge a guy or anything like that," Piazza said. "I've had it done my whole career. When I'm swinging the bat good, I'm getting pitches up and in. You try to get a guy to change his sight line, maybe get him on his heels at times. Ultimately, he's a great hitter, and you have to make good pitches to get him out.
"C.Y. is the type of pitcher with a different angle, leverage. He doesn't throw 95 miles an hour, but when he hits his spots, he's tough.
"He took control of this game."
Young departed with nine strikeouts after giving up his fourth hit and first for extra bases, a two-out double in the seventh by Ronnie Belliard inside third base.
"We like to strand the population of a small village on the bases."
-- Mike Piazza
In came steely-eyed Alan Embree to strike out pinch-hitter Scott Spiezio on a 97-mph heater. The rest was left to Linebrink and Hoffman, the latter making his first postseason appearance since the 1998 World Series.
In their previous five postseason games, all against the Cards, the Padres had not led once. This was Bochy's first win in nine playoff games against La Russa.
After a frustrating start, the Padres finally broke through in the fourth. Adrian Gonzalez singled to right with one out, and Cameron walked. Working the count full, Branyan lined a changeup into the right-field corner for a two-run double, taking third on the throw home.
After walking No. 8 hitter Blum intentionally in the second after a Cameron double, the Cards elected to pitch to Blum this time, and his fly ball to right was deep enough to score Branyan.
"It was great to finally get something going there," said Blum, who had no answer for the Padres' love of road life other than to suggest that "maybe we're a good room-service club."
Only one Cardinal had reached scoring position in the first five innings. Eckstein, who singled leading off and stole second, was stranded when Scott Rolen struck out to end the first. Pujols had lined to right for the second out.
Young had an overpowering fourth inning, striking out Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen in succession.
The Padres had a fitful start, wasting a gift presented by left fielder Duncan when he mishandled Todd Walker's line drive for a two-base error after Roberts' leadoff single, the first of Roberts' three hits.
After Brian Giles tapped back to the mound for the first out, Piazza was jammed and sent a grounder to first baseman Pujols, whose throw home nailed Roberts. Piazza then was picked off by catcher Yadier Molina at first with Gonzalez hitting.
"I broke my bat and nearly broke my back [on the pickoff]," Piazza said, grinning.
Armed with the 3-0 lead, San Diego spent the rest of the day stranding baserunners, a total of 14. The team is now 1-for-25 with runners in scoring position after going 1-for-15 Saturday.
"We like to make it hard for ourselves," Piazza said. "We could have used some more breathing room, but this has been our trademark.
"We like to strand the population of a small village on the bases."