The Cardinals broke serve in the NLCS on Tuesday night by defeating Mets ace Tom Glavine. Last night, the Mets broke back with a 4-2 win over defending NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
John Maine was inefficient, but effective, escaping a bases loaded jam in the first and stranding men on the corners in the third. Though he walked four, one was an intentional pass to Albert Pujols (2 for 3 with the walk, but neither a run scored nor driven in). Meanwhile, he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings and allowed just two first-inning hits.
On the other side of the ledger, Jose Reyes set the tone by following Maine's first-inning Houdini act with a home run on Carpenter's third pitch of the night. Reyes would go 3 for 4 with that homer, a pair of steals and a second run scored later in the game. Singles by Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Shawn Green increased the Mets' lead to 2-0 in the fourth after which I, sitting high up in the stands over first base, felt the Shea Stadium upper deck sway for the first time.
I'd feel that sway again in the seventh after Paul Lo Duca followed two-out singles and stolen bases by pinch-hitter Michael Tucker and Reyes with a two-RBI single off former Met closer Braden Looper. Those two insurance runs proved to be the difference as Billy Wagner--following 2 1/3 scoreless innings from Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman--coughed up the only two St. Louis runs of the night in the ninth on a Juan Encarnacion single, a Scott Rolen double, and a two-out, two-RBI pinch-hit double by So Taguchi before finally getting David Eckstein to ground out to send the series to a decisive seventh game to be played in Flushing tonight.
After the Mets tied the series at 2-2, I posted a comment stating that I expected the series to go seven games, but that it looked to me like the Cardinals would ultimately prevail. My reasoning was the Mets' lack of a viable Game 7 starter. I'm more optimistic now that the seventh game is a reality. Not having to use Darren Oliver since he threw six scoreless innings in relief of soon-to-be ex-Met Steve Trachsel in Game 3 will allow Willie Randolph to have an extra-quick hook with announced Game 7 starter Oliver Perez. Perez didn't actually pitch all that well in Game 4, but kept the game close long enough for the Mets offense to start raking for what remains the only time this series. Should Perez start to falter tonight, Randolph should have no qualms about going to Oliver early, after which, it will be all-in. Only Wagner threw more than 14 pitches last night, only Bradford and Mota threw in each of the last two games, and of those two Bradford has thrown most combined pitches with a mere 21.
Of course that optimism is all dependent on the Mets breaking through against Jeff Suppan, who held them scoreless on three hits over eight innings in Game 3. But this is Jeff Suppan after all. The Mets had no problem with him back in May, the only other time they faced him this year.
A couple of other notes on attending the game last night:
Maybe I'm just bitter, but there doesn't seem to be nearly as much negativity among Mets fans as there are among their cross-town counterparts. Even when Billy Wagner pulled his John Wetteland act in the ninth, the stadium got quiet, but no one was ranting or raving about how terrible he was or predicting the imminent demise of their team's season. Maybe its the difference between the upper deck crowd and the bleacher creacher crowd I'm used to in the Bronx, but I can't get through a regular season game without hearing countless predictions of failure from the Yankee "faithful" ("their gonna strand these runners" "he's gonna hit into a double play" "why'd Torre bring him in, he's gonna blow the lead" "here we go . . ."). Meanwhile, in the Mets first NLCS appearance in six years, down a game and facing elimination, I didn't hear a single fan get down on the home team. You gotta believe indeed.
That said, when the Mets increased their lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh, a good number of fans headed for the exits. These people should be banned from Shea for life. How can you leave Game 6 of the LCS (never mind that its the first one your team has been in in six years) after seven innings with a mere four-run lead and the top of the opposition's line-up due up in the top of the eighth? That's mind boggling to me. Another exodus started after Heilman cleared the one-through-four hitters in the Cardinal order in the top of the eighth. I'm sorry, if you're at Game 6 of the LCS with your team fighting for it's postseason life, you don't leave until the last out, never mind the score, but especially when a grand slam could still alter the outcome.
Finally, I'm convinced that the Mets are benefiting from positive sartorial mojo. They've worn their alternate black uniform tops just once this postseason, that being in their ugly Game 3 loss in which Trachsel failed to get out of the second inning and the offense was shut out by Suppan and Josh Kinney. Otherwise they've stuck to their proper home whites and road greys. Down two games to three with their backs against the wall, what did they wear for Game 6? Pinstripes and all-blue caps, just like it oughta be. They even ditched their two-tone batting helmets for solid blue, and though it was hard to find proof, stuck with blue for their undershirts and socks as well. Kudos to the Metropolitans for that one. Now if only they'd ditch the black drop shadow and those nasty two-tone helmets and alternate unis altogether for 2007. Meanwhile, I'm hoping for those pretty blue caps and pinstripes again tonight, as well as a ballgame that lives up to the tight, well-played contests of the last two nights, regardless of the outcome.