Cards unable to finish off sweep
Suppan, offense struggle in Game 3 loss to Padres
ST. LOUIS -- Reliable turned into shaky in all facets of the game for the Cardinals on Saturday. Starting pitching, defense and the heart of the batting order, all dependable assets in Games 1 and 2 of St. Louis' National League Division Series, fell through at key times in a 3-1 loss to the Padres.
Thus, the Redbirds were unable to close out their best-of-five NLDS. The two clubs will play a fourth game at Busch Stadium on Sunday. Game 5, if necessary, would be Monday in San Diego.
The typically rock-steady Jeff Suppan struggled in 4 1/3 innings, taking a rare home loss. A St. Louis defense that locked down in the first two games of the series sprung a number of leaks, committing two errors and at least two other misplays. And the Nos. 3-6 hitters in the order turned in an 0-for-15 after piling up 12 hits and six RBIs at PETCO Park.
"I think [it was a] combination between Chris [Young] pitching a good game and us not playing very well," said Jim Edmonds, who went 0-for-3, but came up just a few feet short of a three-run homer. "It didn't seem like we were as in tune or prepared, I don't know what you want to say. It just seemed like we were a step behind him."
With Young dealing yet again for the Padres, it was enough to send the Cards to their first loss in a Division Series game since 2004. For those looking for a silver lining from a frustrating game, here it is: That '04 NLDS loss came in Game 3, and was followed a day later by a clinching Game 4 win at Dodger Stadium.
Nonetheless, the Cards looked like a different team Saturday from the one that steamrolled through the first two games in San Diego.
The Cardinals committed two errors after going through Games 1 and 2 without a miscue. A club that took advantage of offensive chances earlier in the series did not do so this time. And biggest of all, the lockdown starting pitching that served the Redbirds so well simply wasn't repeated in the first playoff game at new Busch Stadium.
Suppan, who pitched two series clinchers for the Cards in '04 and was one of baseball's best pitchers in the second half this year, actually did a fine job working around potential trouble in the first three innings. He couldn't escape another tight spot in the fourth, however, as Russell Branyan's two-run double delivered the winning runs.
"With Branyan up there, basically it was a changeup and I cut it and he was able to put the head on the ball," Suppan said. "That's what I really look at. If I was able to make a pitch there, locate a better changeup, we might have had a different result."
The game opened with a single and a two-base error, but Suppan escaped with a scoreless tie. He was aided by an outstanding play from Albert Pujols to get a fielder's choice at home, as well as a pickoff by catcher Yadier Molina and Pujols at first base. Suppan dodged a one-out double in the second and a leadoff single in the third.
In the fourth, however, he couldn't keep the Friars off the board. A single and a walk brought up Branyan, who lined a ball to right field. He was credited with a two-run double, but actually advanced to third after easing up near second when the Cards were slow to get the ball back to the infield. That lack of crispness quickly proved costly when Geoff Blum lofted a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
"I've got to play it like I played it," right fielder Juan Encarnacion said. "Wait on the ball. All the tricky things can happen down that way before it stops in the corner. I've got to wait. If I jump, the ball may pass by me."
St. Louis had one excellent chance to close in against Young, who struck out nine over 6 2/3 shutout innings. A single and a walk brought up the heart of the order with one out in the sixth. Young struck out Pujols on a high fastball for the second out. Edmonds launched a high, deep fly ball that carried all the way to the wall, but left fielder Dave Roberts reeled it in for the inning-ender.
"I didn't hit it that great," Edmonds said. "I knew off the bat in this ballpark that it didn't have a chance. This ballpark's just too big for that."
So Taguchi launched a pinch-hit home run to get the Cardinals on the board in the eighth. With one out, Chris Duncan walked, but Pujols bounced into a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play against Scott Linebrink. Pujols went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Young as well as the twin-killing.
"I don't think [Young] is difficult to hit," Pujols said. "I was seeing the ball good. I was just chasing bad pitches. When you chase bad pitches out of the strike zone, you make a guy difficult."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.