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Sixth frame does a number on Padres

Sixth frame does a number on Padres

ST. LOUIS -- The beginning of the end for the 2006 San Diego Padres was a seemingly innocuous leadoff walk to the most dangerous man in red.

After that, everything that could have gone wrong for the Padres, did.

"Tough inning for us," said third baseman Russell Branyan of the bottom of the sixth, the understatement of the year.

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Added an equally understated starter Woody Williams: "It just wasn't meant to be and it didn't work out."

Williams was the one who walked Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, opening the door to a nine-batter rally that sent the Padres to a 6-2 loss in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Sunday. St. Louis broke open the game with four runs, two of them earned, on three hits, a walk, a hit batsman, a beautifully executed squeeze bunt and a costly error by Branyan.

San Diego, the favorite coming in, lost the series, three games to one.

"To their credit, they didn't roll over. I didn't expect them to," losing pitcher Williams said. "It was a pretty well-played ballgame until that sixth inning and then they kind of blew us up there."

Back to that walk.

"I thought I made some pretty good pitches to [Pujols]," Williams said. "I wasn't trying to walk him, and once somebody's on base, you have to just get the next guy. I did that -- I got [Jim] Edmonds to fly out. Then I left a curveball up."

It was a curveball in a 1-and-1 count to free-swinging Cardinals outfielder Juan Encarnacion, who stayed back on it and slapped a triple along the right-field line. Pujols scored from first and the Cardinals had their first lead of the game. It would stand as the game-winner.

"To his credit, [Encarnacion] could have pulled the ball and popped it up," Williams said. "I guess he was looking to go the other way and he just put it in a good spot.

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"He's a lot better than people give him credit for. He doesn't get near the due justice he deserves. He had a fine season, especially in a new city. I believe he has two more years on his contract and I believe his numbers are only going to increase."

With the game still up for grabs, Padres manager Bruce Bochy called for rookie reliever Cla Meredith, a right-hander acquired from Boston with catcher Josh Bard on May 1. Meredith's 1.39 regular-season ERA and .170 opponents' batting average were tops among qualifying NL relievers. From July 18-Sept. 12, he didn't allow a run in 28 appearances.

But just like they did for Williams, things went bad in a hurry.

"Bad timing to make some pretty crucial mistakes," Meredith said later. "They stacked up on me."

The trouble started when Meredith hit Ronnie Belliard with a 2-and-2 pitch -- "It slipped out of my hand," he said -- to bring to the plate switch-hitter Scott Spiezio, who started at third base over the injured Scott Rolen. Meredith got ahead in the count, but Spiezio survived to line a 1-2 two-seam fastball up the middle for a 4-2 St. Louis lead.

It continued to snowball. Yadier Molina followed with a sharp single that loaded the bases for Cardinals starting pitcher Chris Carpenter. Swinging away, Carpenter tapped a ground ball between the pitcher's mound and third base, where it was scooped up by Game 3 hero Branyan. His quick throw home pulled Bard off the plate, and the Cards had a 5-2 lead.

"I rushed it," Branyan said. "I didn't know I had that much time. Belliard must not have got a good jump or something."

Talk about piling on. The next hitter was Cards leadoff man David Eckstein, who executed the kind of squeeze bunt up the first-base line that they show on instructional videos. Meredith, who said the Padres had some idea that the Cardinals may try a squeeze, rebounded to strike out Preston Wilson to finally end the inning, but the damage was done. The Cardinals went to the seventh leading, 6-2.

"My style all year had been going right after guys, getting ahead of them and then going right after them again," Meredith said. "It might have bit me in the rear end a little bit. Maybe I should have stepped off and took my time a little bit more and thought about the particular pitch.

"But I ain't done that all year, so why change it now? They've got a good ballclub over there, and they just strung some hits together."

Williams is a free agent-to-be, and his days with the Padres may be over. Meredith's tenure is just beginning, and he billed the long sixth inning as a building block.

"Look at the experience I just got, coming in the other day [in Game 2] and then again tonight," he said. "Being able to get in that situation, throw a couple of innings, and to feel comfortable, I can take that in the back of my head and be somewhat proud of it. Certainly, the results weren't anything to chime about."

Adam McCalvy 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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