A two-run, three-hit rally in the top of the fourth inning aided by some not-so-sharp Padres defense was good enough for a 2-0 Cardinals win on Thursday and a two-games-to-none lead in this best-of-five series. Things shift Saturday to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the Cardinals can finish off a sweep of San Diego for the third time in as many postseason matchups.
"We're going back home and hopefully we can finish over there, but anything can happen," said St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, who, as usual, was right in the middle of everything.
Anything that could have happened in the Cardinals' favor in the decisive fourth inning did, but to dissect the winning rally, you have to go back to the second inning. Juan Encarnacion was at second base after a double and tried to score on Ronnie Belliard's single to left field. The throw from Dave Roberts was perfect, and the inning ended with Encarnacion tagged out at the plate.
"You've got to try to score no matter who's throwing," said Cardinals left fielder Preston Wilson. "You have to force them to make a play."
So when faced with a similar situation in the fourth, Wilson did just that. He stood at second after a double and watched Pujols come to the plate.
Padres manager Bruce Bochy, who said before the series he would let the game dictate his approach to the dangerous Pujols, decided to attack. San Diego starter David Wells got ahead in the count, 0-and-2, then barely missed with two balls below the zone. Wells came back with a cut fastball -- the same pitch that induced a double-play grounder off Pujols' bat in the first inning -- but caught too much of the plate. Pujols delivered a single to left.
"I just wanted to do my job, hit a ball to second base and get the guy over," Pujols said. "Runs are real important in games in the postseason because it seems like pitchers dominate the hitting. I stayed inside the ball and I pulled it to left field and we got one run."
Wilson motored home, and this time Roberts' throw was off-line. Wilson scored the go-ahead run easily, but Pujols, looking to advance to second on the throw, was suddenly caught in a rundown and appeared to be an easy target for the first out of the inning. With the ball in the glove of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second base was left uncovered and Pujols slid in safely.
"I just got lucky in the rundown," Pujols said. "As soon as he threw to second, I thought, 'I'm done.' But I wasn't going to give up."
Said Bochy: "We just didn't execute. It should have been a one-run ballgame, but we made a mistake there."
It would have remained a one-run game had Pujols been tagged out. But he was at third base after a pair of groundouts, and scampered home when Jim Edmonds reached on an infield single to second base. Todd Walker made a nice sliding stop of the ball, but could not get a handle to attempt a throw to first.
Would Edmonds have been out?
"It would have been close," Cards shortstop David Eckstein said. "Real close."
Pujols is batting a cool .625 through the first two games of the series, including go-ahead hits in each of the two games. Bochy conceded later that he might have to rethink the strategy of giving the guy anything at all to hit.
"We're in a tough spot there after a leadoff double," Bochy said. "My decision to pitch to Pujols didn't work out, but they have a lot of options there if we put him on. It's the fourth inning, and I just didn't want to try to open up a big inning there."
Especially with Wells on the mound. The burly left-hander has faced Pujols in nine regular-season at-bats and has surrendered three hits. Unless the Padres can rally, Thursday may have marked Wells' last time on a Major League mound.
"I don't feel I need to pitch around him in that situation with a base open," Wells said. "I guarantee you anybody who is a pitcher doesn't want to go and pitch around somebody. ... I made a good pitch, he made a good swing. You tip your cap to him and that's that. But I'm not one to pitch around guys unless it's a really, really crucial situation. I had an opportunity to get him out with two strikes. Didn't happen."
The Cardinals will look to manufacture another win in Game 3.
"We're the kind of team that's going to try to put some action on, and try to create some things," Eckstein said. "The ballpark we play in is not exactly friendly to the home run, and coming here it's the same way. We have one guy with tremendous pop and some other guys capable of hitting home runs, but we have to realize that we need to be a line-drive club."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.