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10/20/06 1:20 AM ET

Chess Match: Checkmate for Cards

Managers pull out the stops as pennant hangs in balance

NEW YORK -- There's nothing like Game 7 in a best-of-seven series. For all their playoff experience, the Cards' Tony La Russa as a manager, and the Mets' Willie Randolph as a player, coach and manager, neither have had much experience in Game 7s. La Russa was 1-1 coming in. Randolph never played in one for the Pirates, Yankees or A's. He coached in two with the Yankees, beating Boston in 2003 and losing to the Red Sox in 2004. This was his first as a manager. Let the moves begin.

Willie sticks with Ollie
The situation: Oliver Perez pitching in the top of the fifth. He allows a single to Ronnie Belliard and hits David Eckstein after Jeff Suppan lays down a sacrifice bunt. Runners on first and second and he whiffs Preston Wilson, bringing Albert Pujols to the plate.

The decision: Despite the fact that Perez has already thrown 74 pitches at that point and is pitching on just three days' rest, Randolph leaves him in to face Pujols, who is batting for only the second time in the series with a runner in scoring position.

The outcome: Pujols pops out to short on the second pitch. The score remains 1-1.

The analysis: "I'm just real proud of the way he stepped up for us. I had a feeling he would go out and compete the way he did, and he gave us a chance to win the game. He did a great job." -- Randolph, on Perez

The next time Randolph almost isn't so lucky
The situation: With one out and no one on in the sixth, Perez has just walked Jim Edmonds on a full count. At this point, Perez has thrown 87 pitches.

The decision: Randolph goes to the mound to chat with the 25-year-old left-hander and leaves him in to pitch to Scott Rolen.

The outcome: Rolen hits the first pitch deep to left, where a leaping Endy Chavez steals the potential two-run homer just over the fence one-handed, keeping the score 1-1. Edmonds, running on the play, is doubled up at first. Perez is gone as the seventh begins.

The analysis: "I asked him how he felt really. I felt he had enough to go against Rolen. I liked the matchup with Rolen. He has a good high fastball and I thought he pitched to him pretty well tonight. I pushed him to get another out, and Chavy made a great play to jump up there and snatch it." -- Randolph

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Now it's Tony's turn
The situation: Bottom of the sixth, runners on second and third with one out after third baseman Rolen fields David Wright's roller and tosses the ball in the stands behind first base for an error. Shawn Green is due up.

The decision: La Russa has Suppan walk Green intentionally to load the bases.

The outcome: Jose Valentin strikes out swinging and Chavez hits the first pitch meekly to center, ending the inning with the score still tied, 1-1.

The analysis: "Right away, they get a break, and the break is the ball slipped, the grass was wet and Scott had to hurry and made an error. It happens. But, yeah, that was one of the real key turning points of the game because Supp kept his composure, made great pitches and got out of it. The game could have gotten away right there." -- La Russa

"Scott, he's just made so many tremendous plays; that was a very tough play. I moved on. As soon as the runner got on first, that was over with. I had to focus on who I was facing next." -- Suppan

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.