By Mike Steffanos
Mets 8 - Cardinals 7
In a game of high-stakes baseball dominated by the long ball, the Mets proved that two Carloses will always beat an Albert. In a thrilling finish, they battled back from a 7-1 deficit to win on Carlos Beltran's 2-run walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth.
John Maine has been all that Mets fans could ask for since being called up, but tonight was a lesson for the young hurler. He was perfect for the first three innings, spotting his fastball and making it look very easy. He wasn't really sharp with his off-speed pitches, though, and in the end it came back to bite him hard.
Jumping out to a 1-0 lead on Carlos Delgado's solo home run in the second, the Mets hit several other balls hard against Jeff Weaver, but he seemed to be living a charmed life over his first four innings of work. Maine, on the other hand, was coming into his rude awakening in the top of the fourth. He wasn't controlling his off-speed stuff, and lost some command of his fastball. That wasn't a recipe for success. In the span of 4 pitches Aaron Miles singled, Chris Duncan doubled and Pujols hit a 3-run homer. Maine regrouped to retire Roland, Encarnacion and Preston Wilson, but the Mets were down 3-1. It would get worse.
Ronnie Belliard singled leading off the fifth, and Molina followed with a double to left. Tucker got the ball in quickly to Reyes, who fired it home. Lo Duca made a terrific scoop and tag to nail Belliard at the plate, and preventing that run would prove key later on. After striking out Weaver for the second out, Maine fell victim to wildness. He walked Miles and Duncan to bring up Pujols with the bases loaded, and Pujols hit a long grand slam to left center to put the Mets down 7-1.
Fortunately for the Mets, Weaver's luck ran out in the bottom of the fifth. Ledee pinch hit for Maine and walked, then went to second on Molina's passed ball. Chris Duncan butchered a high pop by Reyes for an error, and Lo Duca singled to right to load the bases with no out. Beltran tapped back to Weaver who tossed it home underhand for the force, but Delgado picked him up with a monster grand slam to right that cut the lead to 7-5.
Guillermo Mota came in to pitch the sixth, and survived a leadoff single and stolen base by Encarnacion. He struck out both Wilson and Belliard and got Molina to ground out to Wright. He had some nasty stuff, and the arm still seems to be there. This could be a great pickup for the Mets.
The Mets edged closer against Adam Wainwright in the bottom of the sixth. Endy Chavez led off with a nice bunt single and Chris Woodward walked. Jose Valentin bunted them over, and Reyes got robbed of a hit by Belliard, but got the RBI on the ground out. 7-6.
Pedro Feliciano came in to pitch the seventh, and retired So Taguchi for the first out. But then he was absolutely abused by home plate umpire James Hoye, a vacation replacement who seemed to have a few bucks riding on the Redbirds. Hoye called several pitches that were clearly strikes or borderline in favor of the Cardinals as Miles and Duncan walked to bring up Pujols. Willie brought in Bradford, and the move paid off as Pujols grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
The Mets did nothing against Randy Flores in the bottom of the seventh, and Bradford came back out for the eighth. Rolen flied out for the first out, but Encarnacion doubled, and the Mets elected to issue pinch hitter Timo Perez (no love from the crowd) an intentional walk, and the strategy worked perfectly as Bradford coaxed Belliard into hitting into the inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
The Mets stranded Tucker on third in the bottom of the eighth when Hoye called Julio Franco out on strikes on a pitch that was clearly outside. Heilman pitched a dominant ninth, striking out 2. Jason Isringhausen came in for the ninth, trying to avoid his ninth blown save of the season. He got Reyes on a ground out to second, but Lo Duca had a hard single that Taguchi almost misplayed in center. Isringhausen tried to throw an inside fastball to Beltran to start him off. Beltran launched it deep into the bullpen to complete the comeback.
Thoughts on the game
This was a great win, but for any Mets fan that goes back to the 1980s, any win against the Cardinals is wonderful. This one was extra special.
John Maine has been great, but he needs more than a fastball to beat good teams, and he must spot that fastball effectively. It wasn't his night, hopefully it was a useful learning experience. Here is the updated table on Maine since August 1:
Steve Trachsel can really put himself in front of Maine in the playoff rotation with a well-pitched game tomorrow. Still, I'm not disappointed in Maine at all. For a young pitcher, the tough games can be as valuable as the good ones. He'll bounce back.
Nice to see Lo Duca bounce back with a couple of hits, and that was one of the best tag plays at home I've ever seen. His familiarity with Mota was one factor in the acquisition, and he coaxed a good inning out of him tonight. And, of course, getting on base in front of Beltran in the ninth was huge.
Delgado's clearly back with 2 well-struck home runs. Both Carloses seem to be overcoming their aversion to hitting at Shea. David Wright continues his struggles, his average dipping below .300 with tonight's 0-4.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.