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SD@STL: Pujols' homer puts Cards on top

ST. LOUIS -- For a sinkerballing, ground-ball-inducing pitcher like Jake Westbrook, the checklist for success is really about three items long: Keep the ball down, keep it in the strike zone, and get help from the defense. When two of those three don't happen, it's going to be a long day. Or a long inning.

Westbrook kept his pitches down for the most part on Saturday, but he didn't throw nearly enough strikes, and his defense didn't turn enough batted balls into outs -- especially in an ugly, six-run fifth inning. The predictable result of those occurrences was a deflating 11-3 loss to the Padres at Busch Stadium in the second game of the season for both teams.

The Cardinals fell to 0-2 on the young campaign, their first such start since 2007.

Over 4 1/3 innings, Westbrook issued five walks, one intentional. Two Padres reached on infield hits, three more on well-place ground-ball singles. The combination was a lethal one for Westbrook, who was making his first start since re-signing with the Cardinals last November.

"It wasn't pretty," Westbrook said. "Walks killed us. I wasn't very efficient. I felt great, I guess that's one good thing, is I felt great. I just didn't get the job done."

Westbrook had some trouble with his location from the start, needing 25 pitches to get through a hitless first inning. He walked Orlando Hudson after getting ahead of the San Diego second baseman with an 0-2 count, and that was a harbinger of how much of the afternoon would go.

Allen Craig's two-run single granted Westbrook a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, but the advantage didn't last long. Westbrook issued a leadoff walk to Ryan Ludwick in the second, and to the next batter, Chase Headley, he threw a wild pitch that it appeared catcher Yadier Molina could have corralled. Headley's grounder then advanced Ludwick to third, and after another walk, Nick Hundley's rolling grounder up the middle made it 2-1. Pitcher Clayton Richard bunted home the tying run.

"We had some tough at-bats early on and laid off some pitches," Headley said. "I think that led to some success we had later."

The Cards took another lead on a solo homer by Albert Pujols but once again couldn't make it last. Ludwick hit a ground-ball single to left, and Nick Hundley tripled off the wall on a strange play. Lance Berkman gave chase all the way to the wall rather than waiting for the carom, and when the ball kicked off the wall, it skittered far past him, allowing the Hundley to motor all the way to third.

Despite all of that, the Cards and Friars were still tied. That's when the game unraveled on Westbrook and the Redbirds. Two infield singles, both hit to shortstop Ryan Theriot, started the rally that gave San Diego the victory.

A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, and the Cards chose to walk Brad Hawpe to load the bases. But Westbrook couldn't get the grounder he needed, instead walking Ludwick to give San Diego the lead. Headley poked a ground-ball single past a diving Pujols for two more runs, and Westbrook was lifted.

"I just can't make a pitch when I need to," Westbrook said. "They'd foul some balls off, and I'd end up throwing a ball, then they'd foul a couple more balls off, and then I'd end up walking guys. ... It's frustrating. But it's one of those things where I'll learn from it and get better."

Jason Motte allowed a double, an intentional walk and an unintentional bases-loaded walk to Richard before putting out the fire, but it was far too late.

Manager Tony La Russa stood by his team's defense, arguing that virtually every routine play was made. The problem for the Cardinals is that with a pitcher like Westbrook, making the routine plays won't always be enough. He, like several other Cardinals' hurlers, allows a large number of balls in play and ground balls, making him extremely reliant on plays being made behind him.

"Defense is important to this team or any team," second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "I don't think it's any different from San Diego. ... This is the Major Leagues, so I think you expect balls that are hit on the ground to be caught. When they're not, it's tough."

Westbrook ended up needing 88 pitches to get 13 outs, a ratio that recalled his inconsistent spring. Of those 88, only 50 went for strikes, well under 60 percent.

"I just need to be more aggressive," he said. "I think I need to trust my stuff in the zone early on in the counts and just continue on with that aggressiveness throughout the count. Just find a way to get it done. I'm definitely not that guy you saw today. It's just kind of a matter of harnessing that sinker and getting back to where I need to be." Comments