Cards use game-ending pickoff to squeak past Padres

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Albert Pujols didn't have to hit a home run to help beat the San Diego Padres.

With a glance at catcher Yadier Molina, the slugging first baseman set in motion a pickoff throw that nailed Brian Giles for
the final out on Saturday to seal the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-3 win
over the San Diego Padres.

"When you get a pickoff like that to end the game, it feels like a walk-off home run," Molina said.

"This is teamwork," Pujols said. "That's why you practice things in spring training, you know, hopefully to help you win some games like today."

Said Giles: "I could sugarcoat it, but you can't get picked off in that situation."

St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen retired the first two Padres batters in the ninth before the Padres rallied with a single by Mike Cameron and a four-pitch walk by Giles.

When Giles took a big lead off first with left-hander Josh Bard batting, Pujols made eye contact with Molina. The catcher called for an inside cutter on a 1-0 count, gloved it, wheeled behind Bard and threw to Pujols, who tagged the surprised Giles.

"I can see the guy better than him from behind the plate, so I know when to call the play," Pujols said.

"I know Albert. We know each other. I just look to the eyes," Molina said.

"I don't believe I've ever seen a game end like that," said Tony La Russa, who's in his 28th season a big-league manager.

"If one of our owners asks, I'm going to say I called it," joked La Russa, who added that all the credit goes to Molina and Pujols.

"That is such a tough play," La Russa said. "You think about if the ball goes down the line. He has no fear. What a time to pull it off."

Isringhausen got his NL-leading 16th save in 18 chances even though his last six pitches were balls.

"It was too good of a game to have it end that way," Giles said. "It's part of the game. It's a shame it ended that way."

The Padres lost for the eighth time in 11 games.

In the eighth, the Padres had runners on second and third with two outs before Braden Looper got Geoff Blum to pop up to third.

Pujols, who leads the majors with 23 homers, went 0-for-4, including popping up with the bases loaded in the third. He was intentionally walked in the seventh with a runner on second and one out.

Sidney Ponson (4-0) came off the disabled list before the game and held San Diego to two runs on seven hits in five innings. The Cardinals handed Chan Ho Park (2-3) his second straight loss.

This pitching matchup was made possible by Phil Nevin.

The Padres tried to trade the slumping slugger to Baltimore for Ponson a week before the deadline last season, but Nevin killed the deal because the Orioles were one of eight teams covered by his no-trade clause. Texas was not on Nevin's no-trade list, and four days later the Padres dealt him to the Rangers for Park.

Ponson, who signed with the Cardinals as a free agent in December, had been on the DL since May 9 with a strained right elbow. He struck out four and walked one.

Park allowed four runs and six hits in six innings. He got into trouble in the second and third innings, when he allowed all four Cardinals runs.

With the score tied at 1, the first three Cardinals batters in the third all reached base and scored. Ponson singled to center, David Eckstein singled to right and Scott Spiezio was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Pujols popped up, but Scott Rolen hit a
two-run double into the right-field corner and Juan Encarnacion
followed with a sacrifice fly to center to make it 4-1.

Rolen and Encarnacion singled to open the second and were sacrificed by So Taguchi, and Rolen scored on Yadier Molina's groundout.

The Padres got solo home runs by Giles and Mark Bellhorn, giving them five in two games.

Giles homered off Ponson with two outs in the third, his fifth, to pull the Padres to 4-2. Bellhorn connected to left with one out in the sixth off Adam Wainwright, his third, to help San Diego close to 4-3.

Bard hit an RBI double in the first.

Game notes
Cardinals center fielder Jim Edmonds was a late scratch because of a stomach ailment. He is in a 3-for-28 slump. ... To make room on the roster for Ponson, outfielder Chris Duncan was optioned to Triple-A Memphis. Duncan, the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan,
was hitting .200 in four games, with one homer and three RBI. ... Park apparently needs some pine tar on his bat. His bat went flying out of his hands when he struck out in the second inning and again in the fourth when he hit a dribbler toward third base that he beat
out for an infield single. His bat went farther than the ball.