for this game

Surging Padres send Cardinals to sixth straight loss

Sep 26, 2006 - 3:39 AM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- The game had a postseason feel to it, but the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals hardly produced playoff-caliber baseball.

The Padres inched closer to winning a division title with a 6-5 victory over the staggering Cardinals, who tumbled to their sixth straight defeat.

San Diego (84-72) won its fifth straight game to move two games ahead of the idle Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for the National League West Division crown. Both teams have six contests remaining.

"We have to keep grinding and keep getting wins," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "Things are still tight and we're going to approach it the same way every day. That's the only way to attack it right now."

The Cardinals (80-75), meanwhile, suddenly have a pennant race on their hands. Their lead in the NL Central is down to 2 1/2 games over the charging Houston Astros, who completed a four-game sweep of St. Louis over the weekend and knocked off Philadelphia, 5-4, on Monday.

Five of the Cardinals' last seven losses have been by a single run.

"That's just baseball," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "It's a really rough stretch. We're losing games but we're so close to breaking through, we just have to keep going."

Mike Piazza delivered the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a high chopper that landed on the infield dirt and scored Brian Giles for a 6-5 lead.

"We're playing some pretty good baseball right now," Giles said. "We have an opportunity for that second seed. This team has definitely played well when we had to. We have six more games and we'd like to finish it off strong."

The Padres' bullpen was brilliant, with five relievers working 5 2/3 innings and allowing no runs and three hits while striking out eight. Scott Cassidy (6-4) got the win by working the sixth inning.

"The pen stepped up," Bochy said. "They held them for us. We had a lot of guys that did a great job there. Just a well played game by us."

With all-times saves leader Trevor Hoffman given the night off, Scott Linebrink picked up his second save of the season.

"It's different when you're the last guy down in that pen," Linebrink said. "The game depends on you getting the outs or not getting the outs. You can't say enough about how this offense battled back, for them to just keep fighting and scratch a run across. Everybody picked us up big time."

Padres rookie righthander Mike Thompson was forced into an emergency start in place of David Wells, who could not go because of a bout with the gout. Thompson, who was making just his third appearance since his last start on August 30, gave up five runs - four earned - and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Cardinals righthander Jeff Suppan, who had not lost since August 11, was not any better, yielding five runs - four earned - and six hits in 3 2/3 innings, his shortest outing since lasting just 3 1/3 against Atlanta on July 5.

"It's a tough loss," Suppan said. "Unfortunately I wasn't able to execute. They were able to capitalize on that and it put us in a hole early on."

Rookie Chris Duncan staked the Cardinals to a 1-0 lead with a one-out solo homer in the first, but the Padres countered with five runs in the second.

Geoff Blum and Josh Barfield delivered RBI singles and Giles, who entered with just three hits in his previous 22 at-bats, provided the big blow, a bases-loaded double for a 5-1 advantage.

"That's what's so fun about this game," Giles said. "One week it looks like you never played and the next week it seems like sometimes you can't make outs."

The lead hardly looked safe with the way Thompson was pitching, and he allowed three straight singles to open the third inning, the final one by Albert Pujols that accounted for his 130th RBI of the season.

La Russa yanked Suppan after he put two runners on in the fourth, giving up a single to Dave Roberts and a walk to Giles. Lefthander Tyler Johnson came on to strike out Todd Walker to end the threat and his teammates rallied for the tying runs in the bottom of the frame.

"(Suppan's) been so good," La Russa said. "But it was just one of those nights that he just couldn't keep the ball off the middle of the plate. Our bullpen did a good job."

Ronnie Belliard led off by reaching on a throwing error by third baseman Manny Alexander, who had just entered the game for Walker. After Jose Vizcaino singled and Yadier Molina fouled out, Jim Edmonds delivered a dramatic pinch-hit three-run homer to right-center to knot it at 5-5.

It was the first appearance for Edmonds since August 26, as he has been sidelined with post-concussion syndrome.

"Basically, I was just trying to shorten up and put the ball in play," Edmonds said. "It's still a loss. It was a tough night and we have to figure out how to win."

In the sixth, Giles blooped a leadoff ground-rule double to left off Brad Thompson (1-2) and was sacrificed to third by Alexander. With the infield playing in, Piazza chopped a grounder just over the head of shortstop Miles to plate Giles for a 6-5 lead.

Earlier in the day, the Cardinals lost a coin toss for home field if a playoff is needed to decide the division winner. The contest would be held at Houston's Minute Maid Park on Monday.

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