Cards trump Padres in wild victory

Cards trump Padres in wild victory

ST. LOUIS -- Pick a player, any player.

Because that's how the Cardinals manage to keep winning -- whichever personality wants to bail his team out of an interesting game. And very often, those games have been more than remarkable.

For some strange reason, the Cardinals like to keep it close, like Friday night's 11-7 win over the Padres. Hanging with their opponent until the late innings seems like a broken record these days, but more often then not, the Cardinals find a way.

And what's more important than that?

"We do it all year," said Ryan Ludwick, who went 2-for-6 with a clutch three-run home run in the fourth inning. "We battle. Tonight it worked out for us. We came back four times. We just kept fighting, fighting, fighting.

"To be able to keep coming back, you've got to pat yourself on the back every once in a while. We've been doing that all year long."

Aided by a four-run eighth inning, where eight straight batters reached base, the Cardinals won their third straight game. Yadier Molina got it all started with a two-run single to give the Cards a two-run lead.

Manager Tony La Russa's club added two more runs off Padres reliever Heath Bell in the decisive eighth inning to guarantee St. Louis at least a split in its four-game series against San Diego.

Closing the Cubs' lead to three games in the National League Central, the Cardinals faced adversity head-on.

"That's a hard night and a half," La Russa said.

The Cardinals got to Greg Maddux in the first, when Rick Ankiel singled home Albert Pujols and Troy Glaus for an early 2-0 lead. After Padres shortstop Khalil Greene tagged a home run off starter Braden Looper in the second, the Cardinals scored another run of their own in the next half inning.

But then Looper began to lose his cool on a muggy St. Louis night.

Looper hit Edgar Gonzalez, and then gave up three straight singles before escaping the the third inning with the score tied at 3. However, the fourth inning did him in.

Nick Hundley led off the inning with a sharp double to left field and scored on one of the Cardinals' more bizarre plays of the season.

Maddux attempted to bunt Hundley over, but Molina's throw to third base went wide of the bag. Left fielder Skip Schumaker gunned his throw home to catch Hundley, but Pujols cut it off and whipped a throw to second base. His throw sailed into center field, and Ankiel made an ill-fated attempt to nail Maddux -- who slid safely into third base.

"I think Albert, when he had it, he mishandled it and he just went ahead and fired it," La Russa said. "Yadi, all those throws he makes, he's fearless. You never coach aggressiveness out of these guys unless it's just absolutely foolish. It wasn't foolish."

On the next pitch, Jody Gerut drilled a two-run home run to right field.

"I just wasn't able to make pitches down in the zone and, when you do that, teams are going to make you pay," Looper said.

Yet even when it seems like the Cardinals are down for the count, they still manage to claw their way back on the backs of an unlikely hero.

Ludwick belted a three-run home run, his 22nd of the season, to right field in the bottom of the fourth to knot the score at 6. With both Maddux and Looper out of the game by the fourth inning, it became a battle of the bullpens.

Reliever Brad Thompson entered to throw 2 1/3 innings for the Cardinals, but broke down in the sixth and gave the Padres a 7-6 lead after an RBI single by Brian Giles.

But once again, the Cardinals found a way.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Ankiel fought through a difficult 12-pitch at-bat while facing Padres reliever Joe Thatcher. Turning on a 3-2 fastball, Ankiel sent the ball deep over the fence for his 22nd home run of the season.

"Imagine that," La Russa said. "Falling behind against a lefty he's never seen before. That's talent. That's huge."

"Great at-bat," Ludwick added. "Every day he seems to do something that amazes you."

Only the Cardinals weren't done yet -- they still had to make the Padres' bullpen pay. Payback came in the form of a four-run eighth inning that ended the Padres' chances of making any comeback.

As the Padres bullpen struggled, the Cardinals' relievers cruised. In six innings, five St. Louis pitchers combined for only four hits and one run.

"The bullpen was huge for us," Molina said. "They kept us in the game. With this win tonight, we've got to give credit to the 'pen."

Lee Hurwitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.