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Veteran Williams falters in Game 3

Veteran Williams falters in Game 3

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres relied on Woody Williams on Saturday night to extend their season for a least another game.

But the veteran right-hander of so many big-time postseason tilts couldn't finish the second inning at PETCO Park as the St. Louis Cardinals swept the Padres out of their National League Division Series with a 7-4, Game 3 victory.

The Cards go on to the NL Championship Series beginning on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium against the winner of the Braves-Astros series. The Padres go home for another long offseason.

"I know we're better than what we showed," said Williams, on a Padres team that was outscored, 21-11, and never led at any time in the three games. "We've had some good moments and not-so-good moments. To persevere the way we did all season, I'm very proud of all my teammates. I know we caused some headaches for the coaches, but we're a tight-knit group here."

Coming into the game, Williams had a 3-1 record to show for six postseason starts. The problem was, all of them were for the Cardinals and on Saturday night, his former teammates made him pay.

Williams was at his least effective pitching for St. Louis last October on a cold and rainy night at Fenway Park in the opening game of a World Series the Red Sox would ultimately sweep. But his outing on Saturday night was just as shaky.

Before the game was four batters old, the Cards had a 1-0 lead on David Eckstein's leadoff single and a double in the right-center field gap off the bat of Albert Pujols. It took the sellout crowd of 45,093 out of the game and by the time Williams had thrown 53 pitches with two out and four more runs home in the second inning, he was yanked to a chorus of jeers.

Williams blamed all the damage on his own fielding play during that fateful second inning. It came with one out and Yadier Molina on first base as Matt Morris dropped down a bunt toward the mound. Williams' throw to second was low, about ankle-high, and though Khalil Greene snared it to force Molina at second, the shortstop couldn't convert the double play.

The rest of the inning was like dominos falling. Eckstein hit a two-run homer. Jim Edmonds doubled. Pujols was intentionally walked. Larry Walker was hit with a pitch to load the bases. And Reggie Sanders doubled in two more runs.

Exit Williams, stage right, having allowed five runs on six hits with two walks, the Eckstein homer and the hit-by-pitch. Nine of the 14 batters he faced reached base.

"At the end of the second inning it should have been 1-0," Williams said. "That bunt back to me, I have to make a better throw to Khalil. The next thing I know, there's four runs. It's my fault. It's my mistakes. I take full responsibility for not being able to make a throw to second base. With a better throw, we win that ballgame."

That may be overstating it a bit. The Cardinals built a 7-0 lead through their half of the fifth inning, making it nearly impossible for the Padres to dig out of that hole. The defending NL champions did the same thing in Tuesday's Game 1, rolling up an 8-0 lead through five innings against Jake Peavy, the team's ace.

There was plenty of blame to go around during a series in which the Padres were unable to execute defensively time and again, and couldn't generate the key hit on offense.

"The bottom line is that we didn't execute the way we needed to," said the 38-year-old Williams. "Things like that they capitalized on, but that's what good teams do. They keep coming at you, coming at you and they're aggressive. And they make you pay for not doing the fundamentals."

Williams should know. He played the previous three-plus seasons for the Cardinals after being traded to St. Louis in mid-2001 by the Padres. But the Cards allowed him to walk away as a free agent last offseason.

The Padres signed him to a one-year deal that guaranteed $3.5 million with a vesting option for 2006. Williams was 9-12 this past season with a 4.85 ERA in 28 starts. But the option vested for next season at $5 million when he made his 25th start.

Add an incentive bonus of $125,000 per start and the deal is already worth $11.5 million, not including incentives to be reached next season.

Williams will almost certainly be back, which is more than can be guaranteed for many of his teammates. Brian Giles, Trevor Hoffman and Ramon Hernandez are the key free agents. And the Padres will certainly try to add other component parts.

"It seems like this is the way it is every year now," Williams said. "I don't think this is any different. When you face adversity like we did and battle all season never knowing what the outcome was going to be, friendships form and you create a bond. That's the hard thing with this team. Everything we've been through and the way we've stuck together, it's going to be hard to see people split apart."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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