ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Standing on a folding chair in a raucous
clubhouse, Albert Pujols sprayed champagne in every direction.
Teammates got soaked -- even owners -- no one was immune.
The tension from Chris Carpenter's shaky beginning, the angst of
the St. Louis Cardinals' late-season swoon, all had evaporated.
They're going to the NL Championship Series for the third straight
"From Day 1, I kept saying this team's got what it takes to get
to the World Series," Scott Spiezio said. "We're a step closer."
Carpenter recovered from a bad first inning to gain his second
victory of the series, Juan Encarnacion hit a tiebreaking triple
and the Cardinals beat the San Diego Padres 6-2 Sunday night to win
their best-of-five first-round NL playoff 3-1.
St. Louis nearly wasted a seven-game lead in the final two weeks
of the regular season but rebounded against the Padres, a team the
Cardinals swept in the first round in 2005.
Escaping trouble in each of the last two innings, the Cardinals
sealed the win when Adam Wainwright got Dave Roberts on a groundout
with two on. Pujols stepped on the first-base bag for the final out
to set off the first postseason celebration at the new Busch
Stadium, which opened this year.
"I didn't blame anybody who didn't think we had a very good
shot," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who improved to 20-5
in the division series. "I'm so pleased because it's been such a
rough year. We've popped champagne twice, and the goal is to pop it
Back in the NLCS for the third straight year, the Cardinals open
the next round Wednesday night at the New York Mets, who won the
season series from St. Louis 4-2.
"They've got a great club," Carpenter said. "We're going to
celebrate tonight and worry about them tomorrow."
While the Cardinals won the NL pennant in 2004 before getting
swept by Boston, the Cardinals lost last year's NL championship to
Houston in six games.
San Diego manager Bruce Bochy, whose team won the division for
the second straight year, dropped to 1-9 in the postseason against
the Cardinals, who also swept the Padres in the opening round in
1996. San Diego was 2-for-32 (.063) with runners in scoring
position in the series.
"This was a pretty good year," Bochy said. "Sure, it's
disappointing the way it ended. We didn't score a lot of runs in
the series, and that was the difference."
"I think he was a little bit too pumped up in the first
inning," Pujols said.
But that was all the NL West champions would get off Carpenter.
He got Josh Barfield to hit into an inning-ending forceout.
"We did have a good chance there to break the game open,"
Bochy said. "We just didn't deliver."
Carpenter followed with six innings of shutout, five-hit ball,
leaving him at 2-0 with a 2.02 ERA in the series and 4-0 with a
2.10 ERA in five postseason starts.
La Russa was especially pleased that Carpenter prevented
San Diego from building a big lead in the first.
"That was classic Chris, because at the end of the inning they
had two runs and not four or five," La Russa said. "Then he
started pounding the strike zone."
Because La Russa pitched him Sunday instead of saving him for a
possible fifth game, he likely won't be available until the third
game of the NLCS.
He quickly gave back the lead. Ronnie Belliard, 6-for-13 in the
series, tied it in the bottom half of the first with a two-run,
two-out single. The score stayed tied until the four-run sixth.
Pujols started off the bottom half with a five-pitch walk and,
one out later, Encarnacion drove a hanging breaking ball deep to
right as Pujols lumbered around the bases for a 3-2 lead.
"I left a curveball up," Williams said. "I guess he was
looking to go the other way."
Cla Meredith relieved and hit Belliard with a pitch, and Spiezio
singled up the middle on a 1-2 pitch to score Encarnacion. Yadier
Molina's sharp single to right loaded the bases, and Carpenter hit
a grounder to Branyan. The third baseman's throw was wide to the
first-base side and pulled catcher Josh Bard off the plate as
Belliard slid home for a three-run lead.
"It was just a tough play," Branyan said. "I went hard to my
left to get to the ball, and I thought I had to rush the throw
home, and my momentum was carrying me toward first, and I pulled
the ball -- I pulled it off line."
On the very next pitch, David Eckstein bunted up the first-base
line, sending Spiezio home on the squeeze.
San Diego, in the playoffs in consecutive years for the first
time, put runners at the corners with no outs in the eighth on
singles by Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez. Tyler Johnson relieved
and struck out Bard.
Mike Piazza, who didn't start after banging up his shoulder in
San Diego's 3-1 Game 3 win, then pinch hit. Josh Kinney came in to
pitch and got Piazza to bounce into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double
The St. Louis bullpen, featuring three rookies, threw 13 1/3
scoreless innings in the series.
"We didn't know much about these guys," Roberts said.
"They've got great stuff. To their credit, they made pitches when
they had to."
Nikko Smith, son of Cardinals Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and
a former "American Idol" finalist, sang the national anthem. ...
Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, a former Cardinals manager, threw
out the ceremonial first pitch.