Carpenter blows three-run lead as Cards lose seventh straight

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Things have gone so sour for the St. Louis Cardinals that even their ace is coming up empty.

Mike Cameron's two-run double capped San Diego's four-run
seventh inning against Chris Carpenter, and free-falling St. Louis
saw its lead in the NL Central shrink to 1½ games following the
Padres' 7-5 victory Tuesday night.

"This is a time when we need to start winning ballgames,"
Carpenter said. "Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a big
pitch when I had to."

San Diego's magic number to clinch the NL West is down to four
after its sixth straight win.

"It's amazing that we were able to come back on him the way we
were," Padres starter Woody Williams said. "It doesn't happen
very often, but I guess things were on our side tonight."

Ronnie Belliard homered twice and had three RBI for the
Cardinals, who also got a two-run single from Jim Edmonds in his
first start in a month after being sidelined with post-concussion
syndrome. It didn't prevent them from losing their seventh in a row
because Carpenter (15-8) failed to protect a three-run lead.

St. Louis appeared to have all but clinched the division title
with a seven-game lead and 13 games to go. But the Cardinals' skid
has coincided with a winning streak for the Houston Astros, who
beat Pittsburgh 7-4 Tuesday night for their seventh victory in a

"We're not OK because we can't make enough happen to win a
game," La Russa said. "But we're still alive, so we understand
that also."

Williams (11-5) won his fourth straight game with six solid
innings for the Padres, who have a two-game lead over the Dodgers
with five games remaining. Cameron had two hits and three RBI and
Josh Bard, a late substitution at catcher when Mike Piazza decided
he wanted a day off Tuesday instead of Wednesday, was 3-for-4 with
a two-run double in the seventh.

Trevor Hoffman got the last three outs for his major
league-leading 44th save in 49 chances and the 480th of his career.
He got the day off Monday after making six appearances in eight
games and breaking Lee Smith's major league career save record on
Sunday. Hoffman struck out Belliard with a runner on second for the
final out.

There is compelling drama in the National League Central. Alan Schwarz and Jerry Crasnick debate whether the red-hot Astros have a shot to overtake the slumping Cardinals.

Baseball Today

"Last year I don't think we were very good, I really don't,"
Williams said. "They rebuilt this team and we put a pretty good
product out there now."

Carpenter, the NL Cy Young winner last year and among the
front-runners again this season, struggled in losing his second
straight start. He labored through 120 pitches in seven innings,
allowing six runs on 12 hits.

He had been 5-0 in a span of eight starts before faltering in
the last two in which he's given up 12 earned runs in 15 innings to
hike his ERA to 3.09. He had been 8-3 with a major league-leading
1.46 ERA at home before getting smacked around by the Padres, who
have won nine of 11 and at 17-7 have the majors' best winning
percentage in September.

Carpenter got pinch-hitter Ryan Klesko on a lineout to start the
seventh before the next four batters reached safely, with Bard's
two-run double cutting the gap to 5-4. Russell Branyan took a
called third strike before Cameron sliced a double off a cut
fastball down the right-field line for a 6-5 lead.

"It was no surprise, they were throwing that pitch all night,"
Cameron said. "It turned out that it was a very big hit."

Williams shook off a pregame fall in the clubhouse about an hour
before the game when his spikes gave way on a slick surface and
allowed five runs, three earned, in six innings. He gave up only
two runs in 17 2/3 innings in his three previous appearances.

Belliard, acquired from the Indians on July 30, has four of his
13 homers since joining the Cardinals. He hit the first pitch from
Williams in each at-bat, connecting with the bases empty in the
second. His two-run shot in the fourth reached the third of four
decks in left field and put St. Louis ahead 3-2.

Errors on consecutive plays helped the Cardinals score a pair of
unearned runs and take a 5-2 lead in the fifth.

Bard's one-hop throw to second on Juan Encarnacion's tapper in
front of the plate handcuffed shortstop Geoff Blum to put runners
on first and second with one out in the fifth. Third baseman
Russell Branyan couldn't find the handle on Scott Rolen's grounder
near the bag in time to load the bases, and Edmonds followed with a
two-run single that made it 5-2.

Adrian Gonzalez added an RBI single in the eighth off Adam
Wainwright to put the Padres ahead 7-5.

Game notes
Belliard is 7-for-15 with three homers and six RBI against
Williams. ... Williams allowed a total of one homer in his three
previous starts. ... The Padres are 4-1 against the Cardinals, who
are 22-11 overall against the West.