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10/14/06 1:09 AM ET

Chess Match: Cards win duel of depth

St. Louis gets to Mets closer in ninth inning of Game 2

NEW YORK -- Experiencing postseason pressures for the first time as a manager, the Mets' Willie Randolph is matching wits and moves with master strategist Tony La Russa. Game 2 came down to a test of pitching depth -- and wills -- before So Taguchi's ninth-inning homer against Billy Wagner ignited the Cards' 9-6 decision, sending the NLCS to St. Louis tied at a game apiece.

Cards' 'pen mightier than Mets' sword
The situation: Mets starter John Maine labors through four innings, and Cards ace Chris Carpenter can get only one inning deeper, departing after five with a 5-4 Carlos Delgado-carved deficit.

The decision: Bring on the relievers. Both clubs have exploited their bullpens superbly all season, the Mets' relief corps leading the league in ERA (3.25). But the Cards' unit has been bigger in the postseason, having held the Padres and Mets scoreless through 15 2/3 innings of five games while the Mets' relievers had yielded eight earned runs in 15 1/3 innings in four games.

The outcome: Josh Hancock coughs up the first run by a St. Louis reliever in the postseason, Paul Lo Duca's RBI double, giving the Mets a 6-4 lead. But Guillermo Mota lets it get away on Scott Spiezio's two-out, two-run triple. Taguchi, who'd just replaced Chris Duncan in the ninth with La Russa anticipating Wagner's entry, launches a 3-2 Wagner heater into the left-field seats -- his second homer in as many postseason at-bats. The Mets closer exits two doubles and a single later with St. Louis in command.

The analysis: "It was one of those things where I didn't throw a fastball where I wanted it -- up and in -- and it went over the plate and [Spiezio] hit it," Mota said. "Our bullpen's been very good, but this was one of those nights we didn't get the job done."

La Russa goes by his own book
The situation: In the ninth, right-hander Josh Kinney gives up a one-out single to Jose Reyes and walks Lo Duca. Coming up is Game 1 hero Carlos Beltran, a switch-hitter who produced 33 of his 41 homers from the left side and hit 41 points higher left-handed.

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The decision: With southpaw Tyler Johnson, dominant in the postseason, ready, La Russa leaves Kinney in. The detail-minded La Russa is aware of the dangers Beltran poses, but is counting on Kinney's ability to frustrate left-handed hitters, who batted .162 average against him.

The outcome: Beltran grounds into a double play, leaving Delgado, with his two homers and four RBIs, in the on-deck circle. It's 6-6 heading into the ninth, and the Cards erupt. Johnson strikes out Delgado, the only hitter he faces, in the ninth, and Adam Wainwright closes it out.

The analysis: "I don't think I have a secret equation to get lefties out or something," Kinney said. "That's a huge inning -- I can't give up any runs there. With Beltran, I figured he was going to be aggressive, trying to drive the ball. I don't think it was a great pitch, but it was good enough. We were able to get out of the inning, and look what happened when we came up."

No ducks on Albert's pond
The situation: The Cardinals recognize the need to put runners on base in front of Albert Pujols in order to maximize his production. Not once in his four at-bats in Game 2 -- and only once in the first two games -- has the game's best hitter come to bat with a runner on base.

The decision: Try to capitalize on Pujols' mounting frustration by getting him to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

The outcome: Presumably pressing, trying to rescue his team, Pujols uncharacteristically leaves his zone. He's 0-for-2 in the game, 0-for-5 in the series and 0-for-12 going back to Game 2 of the NLDS when he singles in the seventh against Mota, starting the tying rally. Following Taguchi's homer in the ninth, Pujols rakes a double against Wagner, scoring on Spiezio's double. Albert is back.

The analysis: "Great hitters don't get a lot of pitches to hit in big situations," Spiezio said. "Albert has been doing a great job for us in the postseason, getting on and starting rallies. That's pretty big, for a guy who's used to driving in 140 runs a year and hitting 50 home runs, to have to take those walks on a big stage like this."

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.