SAN DIEGO -- Narrow losses in the first two games of the series against the Padres apparently were enough to wake up the Cardinals' sluggish bats.

In the finale on Thursday, the club made sure the margin of victory was not only in their favor but also large enough to ensure it would avoid a sweep, and did so with an 8-3 win at PETCO Park.

Adding to the sense of satisfaction was the performance by starter P.J. Walters, who has fought through a difficult personal situation this season but picked up his first Major League victory.

"I really admire the guts of the club," manager Tony La Russa said. "That's a good example. Sometimes we talk about not being good enough, but our guts are good enough. After two really difficult losses, to come out today and really make some things happen."

Brendan Ryan tied a career high with four hits and Albert Pujols homered for the first time in nearly two weeks as the Cardinals' bats awakened after scoring just one run in the previous two games. Ryan Ludwick had three hits and a pair of RBIs and Matt Holliday and Skip Schumaker turned in mult-hit efforts as seemingly the entire lineup contributed timely hits.

Walters (1-0) tossed five scoreless innings in his second career start in the Majors after missing most of April when his daughter was born 14 weeks prematurely and eventually passed away just as the season started. Walters took time for family leave, but returned to Triple-A Memphis on May 6 and turned in three solid outings to earn the promotion.

"I think that the situation I've gone through has helped me to concentrate much better," Walters said. "I'm able to worry about what's going on right then in that situation, not what could happen.

"It has definitely made me stronger as a player, as a person, as a Christian and everything down the line."

Getting the callup on Saturday from Memphis when Brad Penny went on the disabled list, Walters followed up a scoreless relief appearance that day by yielding four hits in this one. He walked two and struck out four.

"We needed to win, so I'm glad we were able to," Walters said. "Obviously, a lot of pitches early in the game got me out of there earlier than we would've liked, but leaving with a lead is always good."

"It looked like he was really concentrating pitch to pitch, and wasn't really distracted by anything," La Russa said.

The solid pitching was present throughout the series, as St. Louis allowed just six runs total despite losing two out of three.

"It's something that every ballclub goes through, and we should feel blessed to be in second place because it could be a lot worse," Pujols said. "Our pitching has pretty much been carrying us all year long, and there are some games our there where we've score 11 runs or 10 runs, but like today, finally we got it put together hopefully."

After singling in his first two at-bats against Padres starter Wade LeBlanc (2-3), Ryan sent a ball over the left-field wall in the fifth and Pujols followed two batters later with a blast that reached the second deck of the Western Metal Supply Co. building. It marked the first long ball and RBI since May 14 for Pujols, who had gone 71 at-bats without a home run.

"If you keep putting a good swing on it all year, then sooner or later, they're going to fall," Pujols said.

The Cardinals added on in each of the next three innings to put the game out of reach.

"We've been facing good pitching," Pujols said. "Obviously, we had a lot of chances, but this the big leagues. It doesn't matter what kind of chances you have, sometimes you hit a ball hard at somebody or they make a good play or something like that. Today, as soon as Ryan led off with a base hit, he pretty much got our team going."

Pujols also admired the opposing team, as the Padres have defied preseason predictions and sit atop the National League West standings.

"That's a good team," Pujols said. "It's a talented ballclub, and they play hard. They've got good pitching, a good bullpen. There's nothing to be surprised, that's why they're leading the West."

La Russa was encouraged by the offensive outburst, but looked for signs of a long-term effect rather than focusing on just one game.

"I'd like to see that happen for two or three weeks," La Russa said. "That would really be fun. That's what we're capable of doing, having clutch at-bats and clutch hits up and down the lineup."