SAN DIEGO - David Eckstein hit a two-run homer, Reggie Sanders drove in two runs with a bases-loaded double and the St. Louis Cardinals roughed up another San Diego starter on the way to a 7-4 series-clinching victory over the Padres in Game 3 of the NL division series Saturday night.
Just as they did in the first two games, the Cardinals came out swinging. Albert Pujols hit an RBI double to right-center in the first after Eckstein hit a leadoff single on the second pitch of the game. Yadier Molina added a two-run single and Matt Morris pitched hitless ball into the fifth.
St. Louis thus punched its ticket for a return trip to the league championship series after finishing the regular season with a major league-best record of 100-62.
The Cardinals batted around in the second, with Sanders' double chasing Padres starter Woody Williams. Sanders set an NLDS record with 10 RBIs in the series. Boston's John Valentin drove in 12 runs against Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.
Sanders' hit came four batters after Eckstein connected for his first career postseason home run with a shot that just cleared the left-field fence. It was the 24th postseason game for Eckstein - he and Sanders are the only Cardinals players with a World Series ring. Eckstein won it all with the Angels in 2002, and Sanders played for the champion Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001.
Pujols, a leading contender for NL MVP, doubled again leading off the sixth against Rudy Seanez.
Williams lasted only 12/3 innings against his former team, giving way to Brian Lawrence in the second. Padres starters pitched only 10 total innings in the first three games of the series.
Williams, who made four starts for the Cardinals in the postseason last year, including Game 1 of the World Series, failed to get through three innings for the second straight time in the postseason.
He was knocked out after 21/3 innings against Boston in last year's World Series, and the Cardinals got swept.
Sanders, 37, who missed almost two months this season with a broken right leg, had eight RBIs in eight at-bats in the first two games, including a grand slam in Game 1.
The Padres, trying to extend their season one more game after losing twice at Busch Stadium, didn't manage a hit against 14-game winner Morris until Joe Randa's one-out bloop double to left in the fifth. Pinch-hitter Eric Young followed with an RBI single to right, marking the first time San Diego scored before the seventh inning this series.
Mark Loretta also lined an RBI single to left in the fifth for San Diego, which won the NL West with only 82 victories to reach the postseason for the first time since the club got swept in the 1998 World Series by the New York Yankees.