Carpenter blanks Padres, records league-best 14th win

SAN DIEGO -- Matt Holliday got the St. Louis Cardinals off to a fast start and Chris Carpenter took over from there.

Carpenter pitched seven crisp innings after Holliday hit a three-run homer in the top of the first, leading the Cardinals to a 7-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.

Holliday hit the first pitch he saw from Kevin Correia over the wall in center, giving the Cardinals a 3-0 lead before Carpenter took the mound.

"Coming out and getting three runs there early was nice," Carpenter said. "Being able to pound the strike zone and get ahead and be aggressive was the key."

Carpenter (14-3) won his ninth consecutive decision and moved into a tie for the major league lead in victories. The 2005 NL Cy Young Award winner allowed three hits, walked three and struck out six.

"You give a guy like him a three-run lead early in the game," Holliday said, "you feel pretty good about it."

The Cardinals increased their lead in the NL Central to eight games over the Chicago Cubs, who lost 2-0 at Los Angeles. It's the largest margin for any division leader in baseball.

St. Louis is 12-3 since Chicago took over the Central lead by percentage points on Aug. 6, while the Cubs are in a 4-11 rut.

"It says we are staying consistent," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We are competing."

Holliday's homer was his sixth since he was acquired from Oakland on July 24. Holliday, who also had an infield single and walked twice, is hitting .400 with 25 RBIs in 27 games with St. Louis.

"I was trying to hit the ball on a line," Holliday said about his shot. "That's my goal any time. I was just trying to hit a hard drive up the middle."

The Cardinals have the best record in the majors (19-8) since the Holliday trade.

Colby Rasmus and pinch-hitter Rick Ankiel added solo homers as St. Louis won for the 18th time in 24 games.

"On both of them, I missed in just the worst spot you could throw to those guys," Correia said.

Carpenter allowed just one runner to reach second base and lowered his major league-best ERA to 2.16. In his last 10 starts, Carpenter is 9-0 with a 1.92 ERA.

"My stuff was good, my location was good," Carpenter said. "The walks were frustrating. But it was a real nice win all the way around."

David Eckstein reached on an infield single in the fourth inning, Adrian Gonzalez singled in the seventh and Will Venable added a double later in the inning for the only hits off Carpenter. After the hits by Eckstein and Gonzalez, the Cardinals turned double plays against Chase Headley.

"I've seen it before," Eckstein said of Carpenter, a teammate for three years with St. Louis. "When he's locked in, he's very tough to take good swings off of."

Brad Thompson and Dennys Reyes each got three outs to complete the four-hitter for St. Louis' eighth shutout. The Padres have been shut out 10 times.

Carpenter faced the Padres for the first time since he beat them twice in the 2006 division series to help the Cardinals advance.

Carpenter tied teammate Adam Wainwright, Jason Marquis of Colorado, Boston's Josh Beckett and CC Sabathia of the New York Yankees for the big league lead in wins. Beckett and Sabathia face each other Sunday night at Fenway Park.

Albert Pujols, who leads the majors with 39 homers, went 1 for 4 and tied his career high with three strikeouts. It was his third multistrikeout game this season.

San Diego has lost 10 of 11 games to St. Louis.

Correia (8-10) allowed five runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Game notes
Padres rookie Kyle Blanks injured his right heel while sliding into second base in the seventh inning. Blanks, who played left field in the eighth, was removed in a double switch in the ninth. ... Pujols is batting .217 (5 for 23) in six games against San Diego this year. ... Ankiel's pinch homer was the second of his career, the other also coming at Petco Park against the Padres on May 21, 2008. ... San Diego signed Eckstein to a one-year contract extension. Eckstein, who leads NL 2B in fielding percentage, signed a one-year, free-agent deal in January. ... The Padres observed a moment of silence before the game for Mario Thomas, the club's first Spanish broadcaster. He passed away on Friday at the age of 85. ... There were two great defensive plays in the third. San Diego LF Kyle Blanks robbed Skip Schumaker of a hit with a diving grab in the top of the inning and Cardinals SS Brendan Ryan took a hit away from Tony Gwynn with a diving catch in the bottom half.