ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps the Mets and their fans can find consolation in a brief history lesson. Twenty years ago this month ... sure, you know the rest.

Like those unforgettable '86 Mets of Straw and Doc, The Kid and Mex, the 2006 Mets come to a Shea Stadium showdown trailing three games to two, their season on the precipice.

Those '86 Mets rallied at Shea to stun the Red Sox in a World Series for the ages. These '06 Mets will have to do it in the National League Championship Series, against the Cardinals.

"This is not the '86 team," Carlos Delgado said, grinning, following Tuesday night's 4-2 Game 5 loss at Busch Stadium. "But we've got a pretty good team. Let's go to work."

Homers by Albert Pujols and Chris Duncan supported resourceful pitching by Jeff Weaver and the Cardinals' bullpen, pushing New York to within one loss of elimination.

The Cards now deal their ace, Chris Carpenter, who faces the Mets' John Maine in Game 6 on Wednesday night at Shea Stadium.

This is a rematch of Game 2, claimed dramatically by St. Louis with a three-run ninth -- after the Mets rocked Carpenter for five runs in five innings, with Delgado accounting for four of them with a three-run homer and solo blast.

"We don't make any excuses," Delgado said. "Sometimes good teams have to go through some adversity and overcome some adversity. We have to go out and play. We have 25 guys capable of getting the job done."

Tom Glavine, the Mets' ace, was unable to make it through the fifth inning of Game 5.

In his record 35th career postseason start, operating on full rest after a rainout, Glavine was outdueled by Weaver, who gave up two runs in six innings.

"Luck is involved a whole lot more than people think it is," Glavine said. "I feel they hit two balls hard, and the rest of them were stuff that happens.

"We're certainly not in a position we want to be in, but I've seen stranger things happen. There's no guarantee because Chris Carpenter is going to the mound they're going to win the game.

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"We need to put together some good at-bats, make him work. The more we're able to relax, the better we'll play."

The Mets had the potential tying run on second base with one out in the eighth when Delgado singled and took third on David Wright's double against Josh Kinney. Left-hander Randy Flores came on to retire Shawn Green on a shallow fly to center, and young closer Adam Wainwright caught Jose Valentin looking at a third strike.

Armed with a 2-0 lead courtesy of Valentin's two-run double in the fourth, Glavine appeared to be rolling along in the groove that enabled him to handcuff the Dodgers and Cardinals in his two previous postseason starts.

"We had visions of getting shut out again by Mr. Glavine," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He was working us over. Glavine is as effective as he's ever been. He's doing more things to get hitters out."

Going back to Sept. 25 in the regular season, Glavine had a string of 21 1/3 scoreless innings when Pujols lifted a 2-2 pitch just beyond a leaping Endy Chavez into the left-field seats with one out in the fourth.

"Albert just got enough of it," La Russa said.

The homer brought the Cards to within 2-1 of the Mets and brought red-clad fans out of their seats.

"I made a mistake," Glavine said, the run the first he'd surrendered in 16 1/3 playoff innings. "I tried to throw a changeup in, and it leaked over the plate -- and he hit it out of the park.


Mets need some Big Apple magic
Since the LCS went to seven games in 1985, teams facing a 3-2 deficit are 5-10 in the NLCS.
Year
Team
Opponent
Result
1985
Dodgers
Cardinals
Lost in 6
1986
Astros
Mets
Lost in 6
1987
Cardinals
Giants
Won in 7
1988
Mets
Dodgers
Lost in 7
1990
Pirates
Reds
Lost in 6
1991
Braves
Pirates
Won in 7
1992
Pirates
Braves
Lost in 7
1993
Braves
Phillies
Lost in 6
1996
Braves
Cardinals
Won in 7
1997
Braves
Marlins
Lost in 6
1998
Braves
Padres
Lost in 6
1999
Mets
Braves
Lost in 6
2003
Marlins
Cubs
Won in 7
2004
Cardinals
Astros
Won in 7
2005
Cardinals
Astros
Lost in 6

"I didn't expect to go through the postseason without giving up any runs. Teams are too good for that to happen."

Pujols' first homer of the series seemed to take Glavine out of his rhythm. He missed the strike zone on seven of his next 10 deliveries, walking Scott Rolen on four pitches and giving up a 3-1 single to Jim Edmonds.

When Ronnie Belliard slapped a single to right, Rolen scored and the Cards were even at 2. After a walk to Yadier Molina, Weaver -- a .206 career hitter -- grounded to shortstop Jose Reyes for a force.

Glavine didn't get an out in the fifth. David Eckstein blooped a single over Reyes' head. Preston Wilson lined a double to right-center -- the only ball besides Pujols' homer Glavine thought was hit hard -- to score Eckstein.

An intentional walk to Pujols was the end of Glavine's night -- four innings, seven hits, three earned runs, three walks, two strikeouts.

Reliever Chad Bradford got two quick strikes on Juan Encarnacion, who was unable to drop bunts both times, but Encarnacion's soft single to right loaded the bases. After Rolen struck out, Mets manager Willie Randolph called for Pedro Feliciano to face the left-handed Edmonds.

A roller to first provided the second out, Delgado making the play, and when Belliard flied to left, the Mets escaped, allowing only one run with yet another excellent job by the bullpen.

The Mets let scoring chances get away in the first -- Weaver retiring Delgado on a force and striking out Wright -- and in the second, when Chavez doubled with two outs, but Glavine grounded out.

In the fourth, Delgado led off with a walk and stopped at third on a one-out double by Green. Valentin lined one over first baseman Pujols' leaping attempt for two runs, giving the second baseman five RBIs -- second in the series among Mets behind Delgado's nine.

Weaver, regaining his confidence, retired Beltran and Delgado after Paul Lo Duca's one-out single in the fifth and worked a scoreless sixth.

Duncan, who batted .170 against left-handers this season with only two of his 22 homers against them, was summoned nonetheless to pinch-hit against the southpaw Feliciano in the sixth -- and he lifted a 3-2 pitch into the seats in the right-field corner for a 4-2 lead.

This brought the Cardinals' bullpen -- torched in Game 4 -- back into it. Kinney, the cool, young right-hander, worked a perfect seventh and struck out Beltran leading off the eighth before encountering trouble.

But Flores and Wainwright were up to the challenge, and the Mets went quietly in the ninth.

"We've been battling all year," Delgado said before the Mets headed for their plane. "We've got guys in here who can get it done. We stick together. We know we can do it, and that's reason to believe."