Padres manager Bruce Bochy tabbed the 40-year-old Williams over Game 1 starter Jake Peavy, who would have been pitching on normal rest after losing the series opener in San Diego on Tuesday. It leaves Peavy available to pitch a potential Game 5 on Monday, back in San Diego.
"Probably as much as having confidence in Woody, we think Jake could use another day," Bochy said after Saturday's 3-1 win. "[Peavy] has pitched a lot down the stretch, and we just think we're in a situation where we need to win two games and we're better off giving Jake another day vs. pushing him.
"But really, it gets back to Woody. We think a lot of Woody Williams and he's done a terrific job for us."
Williams has spent his last eight Major League seasons pitching for either the Padres or the Cardinals and has made seven postseason starts for those teams since 2001. The last two have stung.
He surrendered five hits in 1 2/3 innings of a San Diego loss in last year's NLDS as St. Louis finished a three-game sweep. In Game 1 of the 2004 World Series, he surrendered seven runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings of a St. Louis loss to Boston, the first of a four-game Red Sox sweep. He pitched through adversity both times -- Williams missed part of the 2005 season with personal issues, and the 2004 World Series game was played in terrible weather and ended with an 11-9 final score.
"I obviously wanted to pitch better, but I did the best I could," said Williams. "It would be nice to bounce back. I was prepared, but I just didn't do it."
Williams made 92 starts for the Cardinals from 2001-2004 and is 26-8 in his career pitching in St. Louis. He was limited to 24 Padres starts this season by a calf injury in May and June and went 12-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 25 games. The team went 17-7 in his starts, winning eight of the last nine.
A few clutch hits will help the cause. Russell Branyan's two-run double Saturday was good enough for an eventual 3-1 win, but Padres hitters were 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position in the game and are 1-for-25 in the first three games of the series. For the second straight day, they will be facing elimination, this time against Game 1 winner and Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter.
"I don't know that we've felt pressure at all," Williams insisted. "I don't know if that's just the ballclub we have. We've had our backs against the wall all year, and we're real good at losing the first part of the series and then coming back and realizing we need to win a game.
"To me, it's not pressure. It's the reason we play the game. We know if we win, we go home [for a Game 5]. If we lose, we go home
Carpenter featured an outstanding curveball in Game 1 and earned the win after limiting the Padres to one run on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He will be pitching on regular rest.
How will the Padres approach the rematch?
"Free and easy. Why not?" infielder Geoff Blum said. "We're a free and easy ballclub and we know that it's a 'win or go home' situation right now. The pressure is on them to close it out, so we just go out, play our game, have some good at-bats and we'll be all right. As long as we know we're playing as hard as we can, we'll be happy with that."
Williams won his only regular-season start against the Cardinals, working six innings and allowing three runs at Busch Stadium on Sept. 26. He beat Carpenter in that game, the Padres' sixth straight win and the Cardinals' seventh straight loss.
Even though that game was less than two weeks ago, Blum thinks the Padres might have an advantage.
"It's a game of adjustments and it's their first look at Woody [in the series]," Blum said. "Woody is a big-game pitcher -- he's been a big-game pitcher for us all year. And we've had a chance to soak in what Carpenter did to us and hopefully make the adjustment."
The Padres' game plan against Carpenter this time?
"Relax and hit mistakes," Blum said. "Hopefully he makes some mistakes and we take advantage of it."