Cards know Padres won't go quietly
St. Louis seeks clincher, while San Diego tries to stay alive
ST. LOUIS -- The last two times the Cardinals have had a clinching game on their own turf, it was at old Busch Stadium and it was the home team that was eliminated. The Red Sox won Game 4 and the 2004 World Series, and the Astros took last year's Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to capture the pennant.A few days after Roy Oswalt finished off St. Louis, the wrecking ball finished off the circular, white stadium that made way for the new red-brick edifice that rose next door. And on Saturday, the Cardinals have a chance to officially christen Busch III by clinching their NL Division Series against the Padres. The Cardinals lead the best-of-five series 2-0 and the Padres have never won a playoff game against them, having lost eight consecutive NLDS games to St. Louis since 1996. Game 4, if necessary, would be played here on Sunday. "We've done two days," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Friday's workout. "We need to get another win and not to take anything for granted." The Cardinals, who will send Jeff Suppan against playoff newcomer Chris Young, have quietly built a nice little streak of success. If they ascend again to the NLCS, this time against the winners of the Mets-Dodgers series, it'll be the fifth time they've gone that far in the last seven postseasons. That the Cardinals have won only one pennant during that period under La Russa is another NL anomaly, much like the Braves winning only one World Series under Bobby Cox in the 14 consecutive years they won their division title. As far as the NLCS is concerned, the Cards lost to the Mets in 2000, the Giants in 2002, defeated the Astros in a tough seven-game 2004 series before the Red Sox swept them in the World Series, and lost to Houston last year. But the NLDS has been the Cardinals' domain. They are 19-4 since the three-tiered format was instituted for good in 1995, losing only one of their previous six first-round series -- in 2001 to the eventual World Series-winning Diamondbacks. Since then, they've won 11 of their last 12 NLDS games, the loss coming in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium two years ago. La Russa said the first round may be the toughest. "If you talk to players, coaches, managers, and general managers who have been in this thing, they feel this is the most pressurized of the three rounds," La Russa said. "Because if you lose three games you're out, no matter what your season was like. You at least get past that and your postseason has some legitimacy."
In contrast, the Padres have only led twice in their eight straight NLDS losses to the Cardinals, and not once since the final game of the 1996 series. Last year, the Padres lost the first two games at old Busch and dropped the final game at PETCO Park.This year, when the NL West-winning Padres were much more optimistic about prevailing, they dropped the first two games at home and face quick elimination again on Saturday. Thus far in the series, the Padres have scored one run on 10 hits. It's not as if the Cardinals have been bashing the ball, either. They've scored seven times in the first two games with Albert Pujols generating the mass of those runs by either scoring or knocking in five of them. Pujols is 5-for-8 and has won both games, the first with a two-run homer and the second with an RBI single. "We certainly have an uphill climb," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "Our backs are to the wall. The only thing we can do is go out swinging. Hopefully, we'll loosen up and get these bats going a little bit. Our pitching has done a pretty good job. But somewhere along the line we'll have to put some runs on the board. That's the only way you win ballgames. "We've been down before during the course of the season. We've been very resilient. Hopefully, we'll show that in St. Louis." Talk about postseason resilience, Bochy was the backup catcher on the 1984 Padres team that returned to what was then called San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium down, 2-0, to the Cubs in the last of the best-of-five NLCS. The Padres had dropped the first two games at Wrigley Field by a combined score of 17-2, but they swept the three home games and won their first pennant. David Wells, who pitched five solid innings on Thursday only to take the loss, said another comeback is not out of the question, but the Padres' hitters have to start producing. "We've got to get on the board and score some runs," said Wells, who says he's retiring at the end of the postseason and may have made the last start of his 20-year career on Thursday. "One run in two games isn't going to cut it. If this continues then it's the end of it. So hopefully our bats wake up and our pitchers don't give up any runs. Right now, I mean, it's about as flat as it can get."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.