Cardinals 7, Padres 2

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—An extra out in the first inning spurred the St. Louis Cardinals to their sixth straight victory.

Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds homered in the first and Jeff Suppan won his fifth straight start, leading the Cardinals to a three-game sweep of the San Diego Padres with a 7-2 victory Thursday night.

It was a major blow to the Padres, who are in contention for the wild-card spot. San Diego is two games behind the Cubs heading into a six-game homestand.

“We knew coming in here we had to play our best ball, and we didn’t do it,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We need to regroup and head home.”

Pujols and Edmonds each homered three times in the series for the Cardinals, who have the majors’ best record at 89-44. Pujols was 4-for-4 with two RBIs, 8-for-12 with six RBIs in the series and has homered in four straight games.

“He is incredible,” manager Tony La Russa.

Pujols’ 43rd homer matched his career best set last season, and Edmonds gave the Cardinals three 100-RBI men for the second time in franchise history—the second time in two years. Scott Rolen leads the NL with 116 RBIs, Pujols has 106 and Edmonds 100 after Pujols, Rolen and Edgar Renteria reached triple-digits last year.

The homer came after catcher Ramon Hernandez dropped his foul pop near the screen behind the plate on the first pitch. Pujols homered on an 0-2 belt-high fastball to start the two-out rally.

“It’s a new life,” Pujols said. “Things are going to happen like that, errors are going to happen, big hits are going to happen after the errors. We just take advantage.”

Hernandez had no excuses.

“It was just slicing off to my left, but you know, I should have caught the ball,” Hernandez said. “It’s one of those errors you can’t make.

“If we are going to make the playoffs, we have to make those plays.”

Larry Walker added a 438-foot homer in the seventh for the Cardinals, who are 33-6 against the Padres the last six seasons—19-2 at home—and have swept them at least once each year. They powered their way through the series with 19 extra-base hits, including 10 homers.

“They outslugged us by far,” Bochy said. “But they’re outslugging everybody. Look at their lineup and there’s nobody in our league that matches up with them.”

Overall, they have 10 three-game sweeps and one of four games. After losing 22 of their first 45 games, they’ve lost just 22 of the last 88.

“Our best baseball is ahead of us,” La Russa said. “I really believe that.”

Suppan (14-6) topped his previous career best for victories set last year and tied Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter for the staff lead this year. In six-plus innings, he allowed two runs on seven hits.

He also got his third hit in 48 at-bats this season. Suppan had been 0-for-43 before getting two hits in his last start at Pittsburgh on Aug. 27.

The only real trouble for Jake Peavy (11-4) came in the first. After Pujols’ homer, Rolen followed with a walk and Edmonds hit his 39th homer and his eighth in eight games. Pujols added an RBI single in the third that scored Tony Womack, who singled and stole second, for a 4-1 lead.

Peavy said the dropped foul pop didn’t throw him off.

“It had nothing to do with me throwing the next pitch right down the middle,” Peavy said. “They didn’t miss many pitches this whole series.”

The Padres narrowed the gap to two runs in the seventh when pinch-hitter Kerry Robinson doubled and ended up scoring on a wild pitch by Cal Eldred. The Cardinals quickly answered with four consecutive extra-base hits: Walker’s 12th homer, a triple by Pujols and RBI doubles by Rolen and Edmonds to make it 7-2.

Peavy who had been 6-0 with a 2.05 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break, lasted six innings but lost for the first time since July 7 to Houston.

Notes

Cardinals C Yadier Molina made his first start since injuring his left ankle in a home-plate collision Saturday, but left after two innings with a bruised right knee from a foul tip. Molina said he’d probably miss a game or two. … Phil Nevin was 0-for-10 with four strikeouts in the series. … Ray Lankford was 0-for-2 in his first at-bats since July 21. He was activated from the 15-day disabled list Wednesday.

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