SAN DIEGO -- There was in their manner and words an air of resignation in the Padres late Saturday night as they packed their bags and bid one another their final farewells.

They were proud of their tenacity, in the way they kept coming back, yet they grasped clearly the bottom line. In the final analysis, they were out of their depth against the reigning National League champion Cardinals of St. Louis.

"They were a better team," Mark Loretta said. "We wanted to have a good showing, and we didn't. That's disappointing."

"That's a quality team," added Brian Giles. "We knew coming in that we couldn't make mistakes -- and we made too many mistakes."

Swept in the National League Division Series by the Cards, who finished the job with a 7-4 Game 3 knockout on Saturday night in the first postseason game played at PETCO Park, the Padres did little to dispel the popular notion that they were a mediocre team fortunate to win an injury-weakened National League West.

After taking the division with an 82-80 record, the Padres did not lead in any of the three games against the Cardinals. Outscored, 19-2, through the first six innings of the three games, the Padres were unable to take advantage of their principal asset -- a deep, resourceful bullpen led by their great closer, Trevor Hoffman.

"The guys played with a lot of emotion the whole series," Hoffman said, having pitched a scoreless ninth inning of Game 3 in his only appearance in the series. "There are parallels with the '96 team that got swept by the Cardinals. These are things to build on and draw on, the way the team did then when it came back and won in '98 and made it to the World Series."

With an NLDS-record 10 runs batted in, two coming on Saturday night, Cardinals left fielder Reggie Sanders was the Padres' chief nemesis. But David Eckstein was manager Tony La Russa's lethal weapon in Game 3 as the Cards swept the Padres for the second time in NLDS play, matching their mastery in '96.

The Cards had seven runs and 10 hits in Game 3 before the Padres had collected a hit against Matt Morris. With one out in the fifth, Jim Edmonds having just crashed into the center-field wall to rob Khalil Greene of extra bases, Joe Randa doubled into the left-field corner, ending Morris' spell.

Randa came around to score on pinch-hitter Eric Young's single, and Young, after advancing on an infield out, scored on Loretta's single.

The crowd of 45,093 came surging to life as Giles singled Loretta to third, but Ryan Klesko took a mighty cut on a pitch up and away and the inning was over. Mighty Ryno had struck out.

"Down, 7-0, we could have packed it in," Giles said. "That's not the makeup of this team. It battled all year. There were high points and low points, but mentally we were able to grind it out. That was the character of this team."

After Morris departed after delivering six innings, Dave Roberts homered in the seventh against Brad Thompson, and Ramon Hernandez -- in what might have been his final at-bat as a Padre with free agency awaiting -- went deep against Julian Tavarez in the eighth.

The Padres threatened in the ninth against closer Jason Isringhausen, who got the last out of the eighth. But as in Game 1 at Busch Stadium, it was not enough noise, not soon enough.

A walk by pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney leading off and Loretta's one-out single raised hopes, but Isringhausen struck out Giles looking at a 3-2 curveball and handled Klesko's comebacker on a shattered bat to close the game and the series.

"They tried to bury us, and we tried to come back," Young said. "But that's a tall order, to come back against a closer like that and a team like that."

The Padres had hoped to get their fans involved by seizing an early lead, but that plan was quickly foiled. The Cards came out swinging against Woody Williams, with Eckstein singling on the game's second pitch. Eckstein scored when Albert Pujols stroked a 3-0 pitch to deepest right-center for a one-out double.

Williams kept the deficit at 1-0, but it quickly mushroomed in the second after the Padres went down in order against Morris. Yadier Molina began the uprising with a one-out single to right, but was forced out at second by Williams on Morris' bunt. On a 2-0 pitch, Eckstein found a pitch to his liking and lifted it over the fence in the left-field corner.

Edmonds followed with a double into the right-field corner. After Pujols was walked intentionally, Williams hit Walker with an 0-2 pitch. Sanders, who feasted on the Padres in St. Louis with eight RBIs, lashed a double into the left-field corner, delivering a pair of runs to emerge as the all-time RBI kingpin in a single NLDS with 10.

That was the end of Williams' night. The toll was five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings after Brian Lawrence retired Mark Grudzielanek to leave two runners stranded. The Padres' three starters in the series -- Jake Peavy, Pedro Astacio and Williams -- lasted a total of 10 innings. The Cards pushed their lead to 7-0 in the fifth against Clay Hensley on singles by Grudzielanek and Abraham Nunez and a two-run single by Molina.

"They did a good job capitalizing on opportunities all series," Hoffman said. "They did a lot of things well. We brought the winning or tying run to the plate each time we played them, but this just shows that you've got to play the baseball game all the way through, all nine innings."

The Padres amazingly ended up outhitting the Cards in the series, .302 to .284, but were outscored, 21-11. With his 10 RBIs, Sanders almost outproduced the Padres by himself.

"That 0-3 record might say otherwise," Hoffman said, "but the guys didn't quit."

Asked how he would assess the 13th season he's worn the Padres uniform, Hoffman didn't hesitate.

"We had a lot of ups and downs," he said, "but any time you get to the postseason, it's a success."