Announcing its postseason presence with authority, St. Louis thumped San Diego, 8-5, in the opener of a National League Division Series for the two teams. The Cardinals scored with long balls and bloop hits. They got an outstanding start. They played defense. In short, they looked like a 100-win team matched up against an 82-win team.
Leading the charge was Reggie Sanders, who broke open the game and the record book with a fifth-inning grand slam off Padres ace Jake Peavy. It was the third grand slam in Cardinals postseason history, and the sixth in Division Series play since the current format began in 1995.
Sanders also chipped in a two-run single, giving him six RBIs to set a Cardinals record and an NLDS mark. Jim Edmonds added his 11th career postseason home run, and Chris Carpenter twirled six shutout innings before he was pulled due to cramping in his pitching hand.
There was a downside -- a rocky outing for a Cardinals bullpen that was a question mark entering the postseason. Four relievers pitched, and each was charged with at least one run. In the postseason, though, the only thing that matters is the final score. Up 1-0 with issues is much better than down 0-1 with smooth sailing.
"We'd obviously like to give up less runs, but I think in the long run it will be nice that everybody got in the game today," said Edmonds. "I'm sure we'd like to pitch a little better and maybe keep scoring runs, but we had a solid game, a lot of guys got in the game and we got a couple of breaks against one of the top pitchers in the National League."
Sanders hammered a 3-0 pitch from Peavy high and deep to left field, turning a 4-0 game into an 8-0 rout and chasing the National League's strikeout leader. The Cardinals had loaded the bases on an infield hit, a line-drive single and a walk before Sanders came to the plate. With Peavy struggling to hit his spots, La Russa elected to let Sanders swing away, and the decision worked out beautifully.
"Tony gave me the green light, so it was one of those deals where, if I wanted it, I had the opportunity to swing," said Sanders. "Tony is one of those guys that goes past the norm. In that situation, he understood that [Peavy] was not locating the ball. But he also knew in that situation, bases loaded, that he's got to throw a strike. So take a hack and let's see what happens."
Edmonds also went deep, putting the Cardinals ahead in the first. The slugging center fielder lofted an 0-2 fastball from Peavy 382 feet into the visitors bullpen in left field for the 11th postseason home run of his career. Edmonds' seven career homers in Division Series play rank second among National League players, behind only Atlanta's Chipper Jones.
Chris Carpenter pitched six shutout innings for the Cardinals in his playoff debut before being pulled due to cramping in his pitching hand. Carpenter frequently worked out of trouble in the early innings, inducing three double plays, before rolling through a hitless fourth, fifth and sixth.
It was Carpenter's best start in more than three weeks, answering what had been one of the biggest questions about the Cardinals. The right-hander was unbeatable from June until early September, but looked less sharp in his final four starts.
"I thought early on I got away with a couple pitches, but we made some nice defensive plays," Carpenter said. "I felt like after the second, I started to settle down and get the ball down in the strike zone and make the quality pitches I had to make. And again, we had three key double plays that stopped some rallies."
Carpenter escaped from a bizarre jam in the second. Mark Sweeney reached on a leadoff infield single, although replays indicated that Albert Pujols beat him to the bag. Ramon Hernandez followed with a line drive that David Eckstein simply didn't catch, and the error left Carpenter with two on and no outs. But Khalil Greene flied out to center, and Carpenter induced a 6-4-3 double play from Cardinal-killer Joe Randa.
St. Louis turned double plays to end the next two innings, including a key 5-3 twin killing in the third with No. 3 hitter Mark Loretta at the plate, two men on base and the dangerous Brian Giles on deck. Loretta worked a nine-pitch at-bat before smoking a bouncer right at Abraham Nunez at third. Nunez stepped on the base and unloaded to first base in time, thwarting danger.
"That was a battle between me and Loretta, and he comes up and hits the ball hard," said Carpenter. "But it was right at Nunie, and he made a great play."
Sanders' two-run single capped a dink-and-dunk rally in the third. The Cards put runners on second and third with a soft single by Eckstein and an Edmonds bloop double. After Pujols was walked intentionally, a wild pitch scored Eckstein. Peavy fell behind Larry Walker 3-1 before walking him intentionally, and Sanders singled off the end of the bat -- and off first baseman Mark Sweeney's glove -- to make it 4-0.
"It was a cue shot," said Sanders. "I was just trying to put the ball in play and hopefully something happened. I was able to put it in play and I was able to get a hit out of it and two RBIs."
After Carpenter was pulled, the Cards went to rookie Brad Thompson, who was touched for a run in his playoff debut. Randy Flores, also making his first postseason appearance, allowed a homer to Eric Young that made it 8-2, and Cal Eldred was charged with a pair of runs after allowing two hits in the ninth.
It got hairier against closer Jason Isringhausen, who permitted four straight base hits to allow the go-ahead run to come to the plate. Isringhausen fanned former Oakland teammate Ramon Hernandez to end the game.
The Cardinals improved to 4-0 all-time against San Diego in postseason play. Game 2 of the Division Series is set for Thursday at 3:09 p.m. CT at Busch Stadium, with Mark Mulder facing Pedro Astacio.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.