ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In spring training 2005, Rick Ankiel launched his new career as a 26-year-old minor-league outfielder. In his first game back in the major leagues, he launched one out of the ballpark.
Ankiel's three-run homer capped a storybook return and Joel Pineiro worked seven scoreless innings in the St. Louis Cardinals' 5-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night.
"Unbelievable," Ankiel said. "You almost can't put that into words."
The Cardinals took three of four from the NL West-contending Padres, spoiling the return of Chris Young in the finale. San Diego has scored one run in the last two games.
The day began with utilityman Scott Spiezio going on the restricted list for a substance problem that the Cardinals did not specify, allowing for the callup of Ankiel to take his spot on the roster.
Ankiel, who led the Pacific Coast League with 32 homers for Triple-A Memphis, launched a 2-1 curveball from Doug Brocail over the right-field wall in the seventh with an effortless swing that put the Cardinals ahead 5-0.
"I pitched the report," Brocail said. "I have no idea how he hit that ball. It's good to see the kid back, though.
"You know, he wasn't too bad of a pitcher," Brocail added.
The drive merited a standing ovation and a curtain call for the once-troubled left-hander, who walked away from a pitching career in frustration more than two years ago. Manager Tony La Russa was misty-eyed at his postgame news conference and compared Ankiel's return with Adam Wainwright striking out the Tigers' Brandon Inge for the final out in the World Series.
"Short of winning the World Series, it's the happiest I've seen our club," La Russa said. "I'm fighting my butt off to keep it together.
"Next to striking out Inge, that's the happiest I've been in this uniform," he said.
Even the Padres were impressed with Ankiel's conversion.
"I guess Babe Ruth was the last," said manager Bud Black, referring to pitchers converting into power-hitting outfielders. "It's quite a show of athleticism and quite a show of being a baseball player.
"It's a great story," he said.
The homer was the third of Ankiel's career and the first since April 26, 2000, off Steve Woodard of the Brewers.
Young (9-4) was activated from the 15-day disabled list for a strained left side muscle before the start. He was fairly dominant until the Cardinals knocked him out in a four-run seventh when the first three runners reached base.
In six-plus innings, Young allowed four runs on three hits with five strikeouts and five walks, hiking his major league-leading ERA 20 points to 2.02.
Young had been 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his previous 11 starts since his last loss, also against the Cardinals on May 12 when he allowed five runs -- one earned -- in 5 1/3 innings of a 5-0 loss.
"I was a little rusty, but no problem," Young said. "I didn't feel like I pitched that poorly. It wasn't my best, it wasn't my worst."
St. Louis didn't have a runner in scoring position until a two-out rally in the fourth capped by Yadier Molina's RBI single. Scott Rolen singled and Chris Duncan walked before Molina's hit.
The Cardinals chased Young with none out in the seventh after two walks and a wild pitch on ball four to pinch-hitter So Taguchi that allowed in a run.
Pineiro, acquired from the Red Sox for a minor-league player to be named, made his second start for his new team and retired the side in order three of his seven innings. He struck out four and walked none.
Pineiro allowed four runs in five innings in his first start on Saturday and said Molina, his catcher, gave him some advice before his home debut.
"He told me from the beginning we were going to go out and have some fun, and we did that," Pineiro said. "All around, I think it was a great win."
La Russa batted the pitcher eighth for the sixth straight game in an effort to spark the World Series champions, who entered at 52-59. That ploy backfired in the fourth when Pineiro, batting after Molina's RBI single, struck out with two men on for the third out in the fourth.
Copyright 2007 by the Associated Press