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Padres avoid elimination with 3-1 win

    ST. LOUIS — Russell Branyan, Chris Young and Trevor Hoffman saved San Diego, stopping the St. Louis Cardinals from sweeping the Padres in the first round of the NL playoffs.
    Branyan’s two-run double in the fourth gave the NL West champions their first lead in three games, Young shut down the Cardinals’ offense for 62⁄3 innings and Hoffman made it to the mound for the first time in the series in a 3-1 victory Saturday that pulled the Padres to 2-1 in the best-of-five playoff.
    St. Louis, which swept San Diego in the first round last season while never trailing, sends ace Chris Carpenter to the mound in Game 4 today, when the Padres will try to force the series back to San Diego for a fifth game Monday.
    ‘‘I think Chris is as good as anybody in baseball,’’ Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ‘‘So I always think we have a chance, a good chance. It’s a game we hoped not to play.’’
    Woody Williams, who lost Game 3 last year, will start for the Padres. Game 1 loser Jake Peavy would go in Game 5.
    ‘‘Probably as much as having confidence in Woody, we think Jake could use another day,’’ manager Bruce Bochy said. ‘‘He’s pitched a lot down the stretch, and we’re in a situation where we need to win two games.’’
    Carpenter will be making his third straight start against the Padres, including his final regular-season outing.
    ‘‘No matter what game it is and how many times you’ve seen them, the goal is to execute pitches and execute your game plan,’’ Carpenter said. ‘‘If you can do that you’ll have success. If you don’t, you won’t.’’
    San Diego was 1-for-14 with runners in scoring position in the series before Branyan’s hit off loser Jeff Suppan put the Padres ahead 2-0. Geoff Blum followed with a sacrifice fly.
    Young, a 6-foot-10 right-hander, was the NL’s best road starter, going 6-0 with a 2.41 ERA. Making his first postseason appearance, the 27-year-old allowed four hits, walked two and struck out nine, fanning Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen twice each. He is 9-0 in 24 road outings dating to June 25, 2005.
    Alan Embree finished the seventh, Scott Linebrink allowed an eighth-inning homer to pinch-hitter So Taguchi and Hoffman finished the five-hitter with a perfect ninth for his fourth postseason save.
    Padres manager Bruce Bochy had been 0-8 against the Cardinals in the playoffs, with his team also getting swept in 1996.
    ‘‘No getting away from it, they’ve had their way with us,’’ Bochy said. ‘‘We’re hearing ‘Who’s your Padre?’ There’s a real sense of relief to finally win a game against these guys in the playoffs. It took a well-pitched game.’’
    Hoffman led the NL with 46 saves this season and set the career record with 482, passing Lee Smith. He pitched only one inning in last year’s series against St. Louis.
    San Diego won despite stranding 14 and going 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, leaving the Padres at 1-for-25 in the series. San Diego scored one run in losing the first two games at home.
    Pujols, who had five hits in the first two games, was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and a double-play grounder. The second strikeout came with runners on first and second for the second out in the sixth, and Jim Edmonds followed with a flyout to the wall in left.
    Suppan escaped a second-and-third, no-outs jam in the first when Brian Giles hit a comebacker, Dave Roberts hit into a forceout at the plate and catcher Yadier Molina picked off Mike Piazza at first.
    San Diego went ahead when Adrian Gonzalez singled with one out in the fifth, Mike Cameron walked and Branyan drove the ball into the right-field corner. Branyan took third on the throw, with second baseman Ronnie Belliard leaping and then stumbling to retrieve the off-line relay from right fielder Juan Encarnacion, and scored on Blum’s fly.
    Taguchi, who homered only twice in 316 at-bats during the regular season, homered leading off the eighth and Chris Duncan walked with one out. But with the crowd of 46,634 chanting ‘‘M-V-P!’’ Pujols grounded into a double play.

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