Cards aim to finish Mets, reach Series
With 3-2 lead, St. Louis sends ace against New York rookie
ST. LOUIS -- Ten days after pitching the Cardinals into the National League Championship Series, Chris Carpenter can hurl them into the Series.St. Louis will bank on St. Chris in Wednesday night's Game 6, seeking to take the Mets out in front of a frenzied Shea Stadium house. Carpenter, the reigning NL Cy Young Award honoree, and owner of a lifetime 4-0 postseason record, will duel rookie right-hander John Maine. Both pitchers turned in early for their big date, leaving for New York on Tuesday afternoon. Their teams caught up to them a few hours later, after the Cardinals grabbed a 3-2 NLCS upper hand with a 4-2 victory at Busch Stadium. Winning a 2-2 tiebreaker is significant, certainly. Of the last 15 times an NLCS stood 2-2, the winner of Game 5 has taken the pennant 10 times. But it is not conclusive. The Giants (1987), Pirates (1991), Cardinals (1996), Cubs (2003) and Astros (2004) couldn't make their 3-2 edges stand up. "We hope to get in early enough to get some sleep, and we'll be ready to go," said Albert Pujols, who got the Cardinals going with a fourth-inning solo homer to trigger a brief, but sufficient, two-inning, four-run flurry. Are the Mets going home for a two-game layover on the way to Detroit, or will they soon be going home in the you're-done sense? These Mets may not personally know anything about going home to overcome a 3-2 deficit, but their fans certainly do. That scenario set up the team's memorable 1986 World Series triumph over Boston -- which has been the focal point of a year-long celebration in Flushing on its 20th anniversary. New York prides itself in having overcome numerous obstacles all year. But, in a season the Mets dominated the NL East, most of those hurdles were of an individual nature, namely injuries. The 2006 Mets have never been nine innings away from being gone.
Such is the burden on Maine, the Mets' so-called sixth starter in a postseason rotation with only four pitchers, because calf injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez gave him this chance.New York manager Willie Randolph downplayed any undue pressure on Maine, which would be remarkable, were it not for Randolph's well-known tendency for trying to keep everything on an even keel. "I don't think there will be much on him," Randolph said. "Johnny felt pretty good tonight, and is on the way home." Tom Glavine, the losing pitcher Tuesday night as his postseason streak of 16 scoreless innings was undone by the Cardinals' rally, was a little less protective of Maine. "It's a tough spot for anyone. When you're one away from elimination, I don't care who you send out there, there's pressure," Glavine said. "We want him to give us a chance to win. "We hope we get back to swinging the bats and scoring runs like we did the other night, and give him a bit of a cushion." Glavine alluded to the Mets' 12-5 victory in Sunday's Game 4, fueled by four home runs by the heart (Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright) of the lineup. But New York has lacked any offensive consistency in this series -- scoring a total of 10 runs in the other four games. The root of that deficiency has been a dearth of clutch hits; a 1-for-8 performance with men in scoring position Tuesday night dropped them to 7-for-36 in those conditions for the series. Tumultuous Shea Stadium now threatens to give them a jolt. At least, the Cardinals certainly view that as a threat. "It's a very tough environment in which to play well, but our club responds to something like that," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, "and I know the Mets will respond, so it should be another game like [Tuesday]." The Mets will be getting their second look in five days at Carpenter, who believes that the game remains the pitcher's to dictate, under any circumstance. "You have to execute your game plan and execute your pitches," he said. "It's called pitching." If it's good stuff thrown to varied locations, it doesn't matter if hitters see it on consecutive games and even dream about it in between. And, just maybe, the pitcher learns more about them than they learn about him. Case in point: Carpenter recently matched up against the Padres three times in a 12-day period. They got him (12 hits, six runs in seven innings) on Sept. 26 -- and he got them back twice in the Division Series (three runs in 13 1/3 innings of two victories). "If you make good pitches and execute what you're supposed to be doing, you have a better shot," Carpenter said. "They can hit good pitches, too, but you have a better shot if you make good pitches."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.