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Small ball works for Cards, not Pads

Small ball works for Cards, not Pads

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals can play a lot of different kinds of ball, all of it good. On Thursday, they went with small ball.

The Padres, on the other hand, don't really have the power to play any other way than small. They have to make things happen with situational and/or clutch hitting, or they don't really have a chance to score a lot of runs.

But, if anything, the Padres played too-small ball in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. Or maybe it wasn't small enough, depending on how you look at it.

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Whatever it was, it didn't match up with what the Cardinals were able to do, essentially by their whim.

"They were perfect in their execution," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said after the 6-2 victory for St. Louis. "They played great defensively. They executed their hit-and-runs perfect [and] the squeeze. They played great, and we were just missing the big hit today."

Now the margin for error is smaller than small for the Padres as they head home to host Game 3. It's a 2-0 advantage for St. Louis with the series shifting to PETCO Park.

Of course, being able to drive in four runs with a grand slam in one game and drive in four runs without leaving the infield in the next game is an advantage in itself.

"We have many ways to go and attack you," said Cardinals leadoff hitter David Eckstein, who played some little ball with the Angels as well before coming to St. Louis last winter. "We've got a lot of bombers, but also when we have to we can play small ball and find ways to manufacture."

Hey, nobody came into this series thinking the Padres and Cardinals were clones of each other. You had to know the Padres would need to execute, well, like the Cardinals did Thursday to have a chance against the defending National League champions.

In Game 1, the Padres got the merry-go-round moving late in the game to put a good-sized lump in the throat of every Cardinals fan by the time Ramon Hernandez struck out as the potential go-ahead run in the ninth. So for a moment, you had two teams that made things happen offensively, just one doing it too little, too late.

In Game 2, the contrast was more stark, and the comeback never came.

One team executed every time. The other did not. One team made runs happen. The other did not.

One team is in control of the series. The other is not.

Hey, it's not as though it was all part of Tony La Russa's grand plan for Thursday, like it was scrawled on a board in the players' lounge next to the menu: "Today's Special: Meatloaf and Small Ball."

But that certainly became the bill of fare once the two teams hit the field.

"We play the scoreboard," La Russa said in one of his classic cryptoquip remarks about his baseball philosophy.

After it was 0-0 through two innings, the Cardinals scored their first run on a fielder's choice to first. They scored their second on a bases-loaded walk. They scored their third on another fielder's choice to first. They scored their fourth on a suicide squeeze by Eckstein.

They went off the playbook for their last two runs when Reggie Sanders doubled down the line, but the four runs they'd already crafted with such fine precision were enough to lay to waste a fine outing by Padres starter Pedro Astacio.

Part of the reason for that is the Padres couldn't make runs happen, even when they had Mark Mulder reeling from being struck by a Joe Randa line drive in the second, but still couldn't get a run across.

"We were doing what we would like to do in creating opportunities, but you've got to cash in, and we're just not cashing in at this point," Bochy said. "It gets a little tougher when you get behind, and the double-play ball killed us today."

You need to give the Cardinals some credit there, too. So much of the small-ball conversation revolves around offense, but there are so many little things on defense a team can do to help itself -- and they certainly do.

If those four double plays -- that's seven for the series already -- don't tell you that, nothing will.

On the flip side, the Padres saw shortstop Khalil Greene commit his second error of the series on a potential double-play ball, and catcher Ramon Hernandez didn't exactly do a Rock of Gibraltar routine on the second run scored on a grounder to first.

Those things wound up being big when the other team was playing so well with the little things.

It turned out the smaller team won Thursday. So did the better team.

And, until further notice, they're both the Cardinals.

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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