By BERNIE WILSON
The Associated Press
Saturday, May 12, 2007; 2:25 AM
SAN DIEGO -- Imagine how different the NL division series might have been last year if the San Diego Padres got this kind of performance from ace Jake Peavy and their lineup against the St. Louis Cardinals. Peavy became the first pitcher in franchise history to strike out at least 10 in four straight starts, holding the Cardinals to three hits in seven scoreless innings and leading the Padres to a 7-0 win over the defending World Series champions on Friday night.
San Diego's listless offense came alive on a cool, windy evening at Petco Park. Russell Branyan hit a pair of two-run homers and Khalil Greene drove in two runs, including on a solo shot, as the Padres snapped a three-game losing streak.
It was the first time the teams met since the Cardinals eliminated the Padres from last year's division series in four games. In 2005, the Cardinals swept the Padres out of the playoffs.
It turned out a lot different than the playoff series opener here last year, when Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer off Peavy to launch the Cardinals to a 5-1 win.
"He was filthy out there," the Cardinals' slugger said. "Today was the first time I saw the ball real well against him and I still couldn't get him."
Pujols was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, reaching only on a throwing error by Greene, the shortstop, in the first.
Peavy, 0-2 with a 12.19 ERA in two career postseason starts against the Cardinals, was lights out Friday night, striking out 10 and walking only two. He's struck out 46 in 28 innings over four starts, a span in which he's 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA.
"It was a good night," Peavy said. "We needed a good start from our starter and I was glad I was able to get it. It's just a good team win."
After striking out 10 on Sunday at Florida, Peavy (5-1) came into Friday night's game tied with Clay Kirby (36, Sept. 18-29, 1971) and Kevin Brown (31, July 26-Aug. 5, 1998) as the only Padres pitchers with three straight games with double-digit strikeouts.
"That's a humbling record," said Peavy, who has 66 strikeouts in eight starts. "There's been a lot of great pitchers come through this organization." Peavy led the NL with 216 strikeouts in 2005.
He tied his franchise record with 16 punchouts at Arizona on April 19 but got a no-decision. He left with a 2-0 lead, which the bullpen blew. He came back and struck out 10 against Washington on April 30, losing that one 3-1.
Pitching with a 4-0 lead after four innings helped.
"You can challenge guys a little more than when you know one or two runs may beat you and you've got to be a little more careful," he said. "You've got to keep those first guys off base. Pujols and those guys, you don't want to face those guys when they can hurt you."
Peavy used his fastball more than the wicked slider and breaking balls he relied on in previous starts.
With the Padres leading 2-0 in the third and Chris Duncan aboard on a two-out walk, Peavy struck out Pujols on a fastball.
"I had a good fastball today and kept pretty good command of it on the outer half," Peavy said. "Albert's a great hitter, no doubt. He's hit some home runs off of me. If I've got my stuff, I feel like I can pitch down and away and get him out, or anybody."
Peavy started to go out to the mound for the top of the eighth but got called back. Rookie Kevin Cameron relieved and finished off the three-hitter.
Branyan, starting in place of struggling rookie third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, hit an opposite-field, two-run drive to left field with one out in the second off Kip Wells.
With Greene aboard on an RBI single with two outs in the seventh, Branyan homered into the sandbox beyond the center-field fence off Brian Falkenborg.
While with Cincinnati, Branyan hit three homers against the Padres on Aug. 4, 2002, at Qualcomm Stadium. He has 12 multihomer games.
Greene homered to left-center with two outs in the third, his fifth. Peavy beat out a broken-bat infield single deep in the hole at shortstop with one out in the fourth, advanced on Brian Giles' single and scored on Mike Cameron's double to left.
It was a vastly difference performance than in the playoffs last year. The Padres were an embarrassing 2-for-32 (.063) with runners in scoring position, hit just .225 overall, struck out 34 times and stranded 35 baserunners.
Wells (1-7) had another rough start, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings. He struck out eight and walked three. He picked up his major league-leading seventh loss and tied his career high with his sixth straight loss. In his last four starts, the Cardinals have been outscored 37-4.
Notes:@ The teams wore retro uniforms from 1972 _ the Padres their garish "mustard-and-mud" unis and the Cardinals their gray "bird on bat" unis. ... San Diego's Marcus Giles left the game with a muscle strain that he said is related to a rib cage injury he sustained on April 29. He said he'll take medication and plans to be back in the lineup Saturday night.