John Smoltz had a brilliant debut with the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out a season-high nine - including seven straight - and holding the Padres to three hits over five scoreless innings in a 5-2 victory yesterday in San Diego.

Smoltz, 42, also had a bunt single and scored the first run for the NL Central-leading Cardinals, who retained their eight-game lead over the Cubs. He didn't walk a batter.

Albert Pujols hit his 40th homer, a leadoff shot to right in the fourth. It marks the fifth time he's hit 40 homers and the first time since 2006, when he hit a career-high 49.

Smoltz (1-0) signed with the Cardinals on Wednesday after he cleared waivers following his release from the Boston Red Sox. He was dreadful with the Red Sox, going 2-5 with an 8.32 ERA after attempting a comeback from offseason shoulder surgery. In six of his eight starts, he allowed five earned runs or more.

"It's refreshing to come and do something and feel like the old John," Smoltz said. "I felt really good. I made a conscious decision coming into this start to forget everything else, and try to go out and have a little bit of fun and not be caught up in a story line and impressing everybody."

The first two Padres batters reached base against Smoltz, but didn't score. After getting Adrian Gonzalez to hit into a doubleplay, Smoltz began his strikeout streak by fanning cleanup hitter Chase Headley.

Smoltz struck out the side the next two innings, but Tony Gwynn Jr. snapped the streak with a single to lead off the fourth; Gwynn and Gonzalez were the only Padres whom Smoltz did not strike out.

"I just felt like I was in command," Smoltz said. "I was in charge of the strike zone."

The nine strikeouts were Smoltz' most since consecutive 10-strikeout games on April 14 and 22, 2008, while with Atlanta.

In other games:

* At Atlanta, Brian McCann hit a tiebreaking, two-run single in the eighth inning and matched a career high with five RBI, lifting the Braves to a 7-5 victory over the Florida Marlins. McCann finished with three hits, including a three-run homer in the first to help Atlanta move past Florida for second place in the NL East.

* At Denver, Ubaldo Jimenez (12-9) threw eight strong innings, outpitching Tim Lincecum, and Seth Smith hit a two-run homer in the seventh that carried the Colorado Rockies past the San Francisco Giants, 4-2. Held hitless by Lincecum (12-4) for 5 1/3 innings, the Rockies rallied to move three games ahead of San Francisco in the NL wild-card race. Huston Street pitched a perfect ninth for his 33rd save.

* At Los Angeles, Jake Fox went 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, and the Chicago Cubs rallied for a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers to avert a four-game sweep. The last time the Cubs were swept in a four-game series in Los Angeles was in 1965.

* At Washington, Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman and Adam Dunn homered to help the Nationals end a five-game skid with an 8-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. Alcides Escobar hit his first major league homer for the Brewers, but his error helped Washington score three unearned runs in the first inning.

* At Pittsburgh, Homer Bailey tossed seven sharp innings and the Cincinnati Reds ended the Pirates' five-game winning streak with a 4-1 victory. Bailey (3-4) allowed one run and four hits, retiring his final eight batters to help the Reds win for only the second time in nine games.

* At Houston, Ryan Roberts matched a career high with four hits, helping the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Astros, 7-5, to snap a seven-game losing streak.

Noteworthy

* Cincinnati starter Aaron Harang is out for the season after having an emergency appendectomy on Saturday.

* Former All-Star righthander Russ Ortiz has agreed to a minor league contract with the Colorado Rockies. He pitched in relief for Triple A Colorado Springs yesterday, giving up one run and three hits in four innings.