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Jake Westbrook goes 8 innings as Cardinals blank Padres 4-0

Jake Westbrook pitched eight effective innings and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the San Diego Padres 4-0 on Thursday night in the opener of a key four-game series.

Albert Pujols hit a run-scoring double in the Cardinals' four-run sixth inning, snapping an 0-for-9 skid, and Yadier Molina added a two-run single.

St. Louis snapped a three-game skid and moved within seven of NL Central-leading Cincinnati, which lost 3-1 to Arizona. The Cardinals have 17 games left on their schedule.

San Diego lost its second consecutive game and dropped into a tie for the NL West lead, pending San Francisco's late game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Westbrook (2-3) gave up six hits and walked three in his longest outing since he was acquired from Cleveland in a three-team deal July 31. The right-hander is 2-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine starts with St. Louis.

Ryan Ludwick, who was traded from the Cardinals to San Diego in the same three-team swap, went 1 for 4 in his first game back in St. Louis.

San Diego stranded seven runners over the first four innings and left nine left on for the game. Pitcher Tim Stauffer struck out with the bases loaded to end the second, then struck out again with two on in the fourth for the second. Aaron Cunningham then hit a grounder back to the mound to end the inning.

The Padres have lost 10 consecutive games in St. Louis. Their last road win against the Cardinals came on August 7, 2007.

Matt Holliday hit a two-out RBI single off Stauffer (4-4) in the first, and the Cardinals added three more in the sixth. Pujols' hit glanced off the glove of Ludwick in right and rolled into center, scoring Skip Schumaker and giving him 105 RBIs on the season. Molina capped the scoring with a bases-loaded bloop single down the right-field line.

Kyle McClelland worked the ninth for the Cardinals, completing the seven-hitter.

NOTES: San Diego pitcher Chris Young will make his first start Saturday since the opening week of the season. Young was placed on the disabled list April 7 with a strained right shoulder. He made three rehab appearances. ... Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said dehydration caused the right hamstring cramp that forced pitcher Chris Carpenter out of Wednesday's game. La Russa said Carpenter is fine and will not miss any time. ... Tyler Greene started at third and hit ninth. La Russa said he was playing him to give the team a spark and give Felipe Lopez some rest.