Clutch hit eludes Friars in opener
Pads get to Carpenter, Cards, but come up short in key spots
SAN DIEGO -- Chris Carpenter no doubt had his Cy Young stuff in order in Game 1 of the National League Division Series, but the Padres put themselves in a position to score runs; they just couldn't figure out how to get the big hit in the big moment.San Diego looked helpless in the first three innings of what eventually was a 5-1 St. Louis win on Tuesday, with Dave Roberts' leadoff single accounting for the only runner against Carpenter until the fourth inning. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner struck out the side in the third, but allowed a leadoff single again to Roberts in the fourth, followed by a Brian Giles single. It seemed after the Cardinals had scored three runs in the top of the frame, the Padres were starting something. Carpenter and No. 3 hitter Adrian Gonzalez battled for eight pitches, and there is hardly another the hitter the Padres would want at the plate in the situation. Gonzalez's 60 RBIs with runners in scoring position during the regular season was second only to Giles' 66. A check swing on a wicked curveball sent the Padres first baseman back to the dugout as the inning's first out. "I had it in my head, I wasn't definitely saying no to the curveball," said Gonzalez, who went 0-for-4. "I wasn't just dead-locking a fastball, but at the same time, I knew he had first and second with no outs. I don't think he was going to be comfortable if he walked me. So I was thinking he was going to try that fastball he likes to run back over the plate.
"If he would have thrown that pitch back-door where it started away, I probably would have been able to stay on it, but the fact that he threw it inside was what made me go after it a little bit earlier."The Padres never got the better of Carpenter again in the fourth. Mike Piazza's groundout moved Roberts over to third, and after working a 3-1 count, Russell Branyan fouled off the next pitch and then swung and missed at the sixth pitch of the at-bat to end the inning. "We just couldn't get the big hit to put a crooked number there on the board," manager Bruce Bochy said. San Diego scored its lone run in the sixth inning and had more golden opportunities to put a crooked number on the scoreboard in the seventh inning.
Branyan avenged his strikeout in the fourth by tripling to the gap in right-center field with one out. Carpenter then walked Mike Cameron before giving way to lefty reliever Tyler Johnson, who hit pinch-hitter Josh Bard with his first pitch to load the bases.Carpenter was helpless to watch from the dugout, pacing back and fourth, knowing one swing of the bat could tie the game. Bochy went to Mark Bellhorn, making his third trip to the postseason, to pinch-hit. The utility infielder had three postseason home runs to his credit in 16 games, but he struggled at the end of the 2006 regular season, going 0-for-5 since his last hit on Sept. 8. He was also 2-for-14 in September with five strikeouts. He struck out on five pitches in the seventh against Johnson for the second out. "He hasn't played a lot, but he's a dangerous hitter," said Bochy. "We still have a lot of faith in Bellhorn, and he's a guy that can hit the ball out of the ballpark." Todd Walker came to the plate next, and his knock toward right seemed fated to make it to the outfield grass. Cardinals second baseman Ronnie Belliard dove to the first-base side and threw Walker out, a play that saved more than one run, especially with the speedy Cameron running from second base. "Belliard made a game-saving play, I think. We score two runs there, maybe three," Walker said. "I'm a big believer in fate. This game just didn't go our way."
Amanda Branam is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.