Arms weave an advantage for Cards
Weaver, four relievers combine to shut out Padres in Game 2
SAN DIEGO -- A heavily left-handed Padres lineup was looking forward to taking its hacks at Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver on Thursday. After two or three innings, the Friars were ready to see the St. Louis bullpen instead.
But no matter who pitched for the Redbirds at PETCO Park in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the outcome was the same. Five Cardinals pitchers combined for a four-hit shutout as the Redbirds won, 2-0. They now lead the best-of-five series by an identical margin, with two chances to close things out at home over the weekend.
"I don't think there's any one guy in there that would have thought that we would have gotten shut out today," said Padres starter David Wells, who may have pitched the final game of his career. "And everyone felt good about Jeff going up there. A lot of guys were licking their chops. Obviously, you know, he stopped that real quick."
With his brother Jered -- a rookie pitcher with the Angels this season -- among the family members and friends in attendance, Weaver battled through five strong innings before handing it over to the bullpen. He struggled somewhat at the start of the game, working around a pair of first-inning walks before getting stronger as he went on.
It looked like it might be a long afternoon for Weaver, who allowed a leadoff single in the second. A sensational double play started by second baseman Ronnie Belliard got him out of that inning, though, sending Weaver on a run of 10 straight batters retired.
"I've had a tough time in the first inning, and if you get through that, you kind of find yourself getting into a nice rhythm," Weaver said. "They stocked the lineup with a lot of left-handed hitters because of the success they've had this year against me, so I just knew I couldn't give in in any situation.
"If I walked a guy, so be it. I wanted to stay away from the extra-base hits and things of that nature. I was able to throw a lot of quality breaking balls to keep these guys off-balance."
Weaver allowed two hits, striking out three against three free passes in only his second career playoff start. Weaver's excellent showing followed a similarly impressive game by ace Chris Carpenter in Game 1.
Facing a lineup featuring seven left-handed hitters (plus Wells), Weaver had a chance to get into deep trouble. Left-handers have hit him extremely hard all season. But he utilized a different approach this time around, getting away from his bread-and-butter sinking fastball. Weaver instead relied largely on a fine curveball to get through the lineup twice.
"That was the game plan from the beginning, when we went in and talked about it," Weaver said. "This team is a good fastball-hitting team and they have a lot of guys that struggle with breaking balls."
However, with the heart of the Padres order looming in the sixth, manager Tony La Russa used a quick hook on Weaver, and the decision paid off.
Randy Flores recorded two outs in the sixth before allowing a single. He handed over to Josh Kinney, who struck out Josh Bard and then cruised through the seventh with only a walk. Kinney, a rookie who spent time in the independent Frontier League before joining the Cardinals organization, finished his first full playoff inning by retiring future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.
Tyler Johnson struck out the only two batters he faced to open the eighth inning, and Adam Wainwright got the last four outs for the first playoff save of his career. Rookie relievers have recorded a total of 18 outs for St. Louis over the series' first two games. Then again, everyone has pitched well for the Cards thus far. They've allowed one run, and that came against 2005 Cy Young winner Carpenter.
"Jeff pitched a great game, kept us in the ballgame and did what he had to do," Johnson said. "It was time for the bullpen to come in with the lefty-lefty matchup [in the sixth]. Bringing Flo in there, he did awesome, and then Kinney to get the final out against Piazza. It was just awesome."
The Cards didn't manage much against lefty and longtime playoff hero Wells, but an odd fourth inning gave them the runs they needed.
Preston Wilson opened the inning with a line-drive double to left, and Albert Pujols' single drove Wilson home. Pujols should have been corralled in a rundown between first and second on the play, but he made it to second safely when second baseman Todd Walker peeled off instead of returning to the base.
After Scott Rolen's grounder advanced Pujols to third, Jim Edmonds beat out an infield single that scored Pujols and made it 2-0.
St. Louis returns home as a heavy favorite to close out the series. Right-hander Jeff Suppan gets the ball in Game 3, having successfully pitched two clinching games in 2004. The Cards are 10-1 at home in Division Series play since the inception of the format, and 5-2 in potential clinching games in the Division Series round.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.