ST. LOUIS When Mark Mulder took a line drive off his arm in the second inning and doubled over in pain, the St. Louis Cardinals figured it would be a short outing for their 16-game winner.
Instead, Mulder shook off the hard shot to his left biceps from Joe Randa the same way he tossed aside a pair of poor tuneup starts and put his team on the brink of a playoff sweep.
Mulder pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning and the Cardinals once again built an early lead, beating the San Diego Padres 6-2 Thursday for a 2-0 edge in their best-of-five NL series.
‘‘Once the inning starts there’s so much adrenaline it didn’t bother me much,’’ Mulder said. ‘‘If I couldn’t have made good pitches I would have said ’All right, I’ve had enough.’
‘‘I didn’t want to come out of that game.’’
Matt Morris will try to clinch it for St. Louis on Saturday at San Diego against Woody Williams. Mulder was with the Oakland Athletics when they squandered a 2-0 lead against the Red Sox in 2003.
‘‘We held home field advantage,’’ David Eckstein said. ‘‘One thing we’ve got to do, we’ve got to stay aggressive. We can’t wait to get over there.’’
The Cardinals, who led the majors with 100 wins this season, have advanced to the NL championship series four times in five chances under manager Tony La Russa. San Diego, which limped into the playoffs with an 82-80 record, hasn’t shown any signs of stopping them.
‘‘We’ve put pressure on that team, we just haven’t come up with the big hit yet,’’ Brian Giles said. ‘‘We’re playing for our lives now.’’
The 2003 Red Sox were the last of the seven teams that have rallied from a 2-0 deficit in division series play.
Mulder was 16-8 in his first season since being acquired from Oakland, but gave up seven earned runs over 5 2-3 innings in two starts after the Cardinals clinched the NL Central. Plus, the lefty was a decidedly better pitcher at night (14-3, 2.26 ERA) than day (2-5, 6.86).
Mulder scoffed at both of those trends the day before Game 2, blanking a lineup stacked with seven right-handed hitters until the late innings and backed by four double plays, tying the NLDS record. Mulder induced 13 groundball outs and only one fly out.
‘‘I like using my defense; that’s why when you give up a hit I’m not going to be that mad,’’ Mulder said. ‘‘The next pitch you can get a double play. That’s part of my game in a way.’’
Mulder kept the arm loose between innings by retreating to the clubhouse and applying a heat pack. After the game he said it looked like he had a ‘‘golf ball’’ on his biceps but said it was just a bruise.
He blamed himself for not fielding Randa’s liner, or at least getting out of the way.
‘‘Randa has raked me all season,’’ Mulder said. ‘‘So I should have been ready for it.’’
The Cardinals’ first four runs came on balls that didn’t leave the infield or in one case, even the catcher’s glove. Eckstein had a run-scoring groundout and a squeeze bunt, Yadier Molina had an RBI grounder and Albert Pujols drew a bases-loaded walk to finish Pedro Astacio after four innings.
As in Tuesday’s opener, when the Cardinals took an eight-run lead behind Chris Carpenter before the Padres rallied in an 8-5 loss, it got a little closer at the end.
A double by Khalil Greene, a single by Randa and Xavier Nady’s run-scoring single cut the deficit to 4-1.
Reggie Sanders, who drove in an NLDS-record six runs in Game 1, hit a two-run double off Rudy Seanez in the seventh that made it 6-1. Sanders has eight RBIs in eight at-bats this series after totaling five RBIs in five previous division series appearances covering 68 at-bats.
The Padres got another run in the eighth when Julian Tavarez hit Nady with the bases loaded, but San Diego left the bases loaded when Randy Flores struck out pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney.
La Russa used Flores instead of primary left-handed reliever Ray King, whose father died earlier Thursday after a long illness.
St. Louis became adept at maximizing every opportunity in the middle of the season when the lineup was missing Sanders, Molina, Scott Rolen, and Larry Walker. La Russa learned to love the squeeze bunt, going 13-for-16 with that aggressive tactic and getting a pair of game-winners from Eckstein, and in Game 2 the Cardinals’ offense thrived despite going 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
After retiring the side in order with the help of a double play in the first two innings, Astacio, who had a 2.20 ERA in his last seven regular-season starts, encountered nothing but trouble his last two innings.
The Cardinals scored twice without a hit in the third while taking advantage of Astacio’s wildness and a San Diego fielding error, and twice more in the fourth with the help of a misplayed flyball that became a ground-rule double, alert baserunning and a perfectly executed squeeze by Eckstein.
‘‘I know that at some point in time it’s going to be on,’’ Eckstein said. ‘‘I love it, it’s one of my favorite plays.’’
Abraham Nunez started the third with a walk, Molina reached on Greene’s fielding error at short and Mulder, who had only one sacrifice during the season, successfully bunted them over with two strikes.
Nady, the first baseman, went to his right to snare Eckstein’s grounder but Nunez barely beat the throw home for the game’s first run. Astacio then threw eight balls in a nine-pitch span that included Pujols’ bases-loaded walk before recovering to strike out Walker and Sanders with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Notes: Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst threw out the first pitch with an underhanded toss. ... The Cardinals share the single-game double-play record with the 2001 Astros and 1995 Braves. ... Paid attendance of 52,599 was the largest crowd of the season at 40-year-old Busch Stadium, which is being demolished after the season.
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