10/07/06 7:26 PM ET
Cardinals' bats silent against Young
Pujols strands four runners as middle of order goes hitless
By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com
The Redbirds mustered just five hits against Chris Young and an assortment of Padres relievers, dropping Game 3 of the National League Division Series, 3-1, Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium.
Pujols, who entered the day with a .625 average in the 2006 playoffs and the fourth-highest career batting mark in playoff history, endured one of the worst October games of his career.
Pujols struck out twice, left four runners on base and hit into a double play. It was just the second time in 40 postseason contests he has fanned twice, and the first time in the Division Series.
"He's human," Ronnie Belliard said.
His performance encapsulated the afternoon for the Cardinals as the Nos. 2-6 hitters finished 0-for-17 with eight strikeouts.
Afterward, Pujols wasn't providing Young with much praise.
"I don't think he is difficult to hit," Pujols said. "I chased some balls out of the strike zone, and when I chase bad pitches out of the strike zone, you make the guy difficult. He is just a pitcher."
The "just a pitcher" shut down the Cardinals, continuing an offensive slump that dates back to Game 1. Over the last 20 innings, the Redbirds offense has scored just three runs. Among St. Louis starters, only Pujols and Belliard are hitting over .300. The only offensive source Saturday was a pinch-hit homer by So Taguchi in the bottom of the eighth.
Young, though, controlled the Cardinals through 6 2/3 innings. One of the tallest pitchers in baseball at 6-foot-10, the right-hander flustered the Cardinals lineup for the second time in three weeks.
"He short-arms the ball and ... he throws a four-seamer and it seems like it stays up in the zone," said Chris Duncan, batting .167 in the series. "He is real tough to get on top of. I thought the guys really battled, but he is a good pitcher who has had a good year and he threw a good game."
The Cardinals had several chances, but went 0-for-8 with men on base.
"We just couldn't break through," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You have to take your hats off to how they pitched against us."
Young, rarely topping 90-91 mph, has an odd release point that made it difficult for Cardinals' hitters to pick up the ball and differentiate between his fastball, curve, slider and changeup. Several hitters, including Pujols, were caught swinging at high fastballs.
"He is sneaky, kind of like [Reds right-hander] Aaron Harang," Jim Edmonds said. "He pitches up in the zone, you get a little defensive and try to not swing at bad pitches and he goes out and makes good ones. Every time we swung, it seemed like we were just behind it , or just out in front of a slider, or swinging at bad pitches. He did what he was supposed to do. He pitched his game."
Edmonds was one of a few Cardinals who hit the ball hard against Young. Unfortunately, his chance yielded an out and ended the Cardinals' best scoring opportunity. With two on and one out in the sixth and the Redbirds down, 3-0, Pujols batted with a chance to tie the game.
Padres manager Bruce Bochy met with Young and decided to pitch to Pujols. In the first two games -- and previous playoff series -- Pujols has made the Padres pay.
"We weren't going to walk him," Bochy said. "[Chris] said he was fine. He was all right. I said, 'Go get him.' He has been throwing well."
Young got ahead of Pujols and struck him out on a 2-2 fastball well out of the zone.
Edmonds followed with a rocket to deep left-center field. Left fielder Dave Roberts went back and made an over-the-shoulder grab a split-second before reaching the wall, ending the inning and preserving the lead.
Other than the sixth, the Cardinals enjoyed only two other scoring chances. With David Eckstein on first and two out in the first, the Padres -- in an unusual move -- intentionally walked Edmonds to face Scott Rolen. The third baseman, hitting under .220 since Sept. 1 and .091 (1-for-11) in the postseason, struck out, ending the threat.
"I know there is a question of how he feels," La Russa said, alluding to the third baseman's balky shoulder and other bruises that have plagued Rolen throughout the season. "He says he feels fine. He is taking a ton of extra hitting. It's an indication that he feels strong and fine. He's working to get his stroke right."
The Padres offered another opportunity in the eighth. With the Cardinals down, 3-1, and Duncan on first, the Redbirds appeared to have a great chance to close the gap. Pujols was facing Scott Linebrink, a hurler he had scorched for a .500 average (5-for-10) in his career.
This time, the reigning NL MVP grounded into a double play, effectively ending the game.
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.