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Cardinals rally against Wagner in ninth, draw even in NLCS

Oct 14, 2006 - 4:07 AM FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- So Taguchi, a somewhat unexpected defensive replacement, provided the pivotal offense the St. Louis Cardinals needed to even the National League Championship Series.

Taguchi homered off Billy Wagner to break a ninth-inning tie and Scott Spiezio drove in three runs as the Cardinals rallied for a critical 9-6 victory over the New York Mets and evened the best-of-seven series at one game apiece.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa put Taguchi into the game in place of rookie left fielder Chris Duncan after St. Louis already had taken the field in the bottom of the eighth.

"I'm supposed to be a pinch hitter. I was behind the dugout and Tony said, 'Go to left,'" Taguchi said. "I was surprised. I just said, 'Right now?' He said, 'Yes.'"

The move paid off handsomely as Taguchi later sent the ninth pitch he saw from Wagner (0-1) over the left field wall to break a 6-6 tie.

"He knows I'm going to throw a fastball. I wanted to be aggressive," said Wagner, who had saved three of the Mets' first four postseason games. "He got on top of it. Good for him."

It was the second homer in as many at-bats this postseason for Taguchi, who also homered in Game Three of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres. He had only two blasts in 316 at-bats during the regular season.

"He's not intimidated at all by pressure situations," said La Russa, who decided to insert Taguchi in left field once he noticed Wagner warming up.

The Cardinals added two more runs off Wagner when Albert Pujols doubled and came home on a two-base hit by Spiezio, who was inserted in the lineup to replace the slumping Scott Rolen.

In his postseason career, Spiezio is a staggering 14-for-20 with runners in scoring position.

"Tony puts me in a situation and knows that I can have some big at-bats for him," said Spiezio, who helped Anaheim win it all in 2002. "When you have a manager that has confidence in you, like he does every guy on this team, it boosts the whole morale of the team."

Juan Encarnacion capped the inning with an RBI single.

Josh Kinney (1-0) earned the win, getting Carlos Beltran to hit into a double play with two runners on to end the eighth.

"I don't think it was a great pitch, but he didn't get good lumber on it," Kinney said.

Tyler Johnson struck out Carlos Delgado to open the ninth before rookie Adam Wainwright came on and retired the next two hitters to seal the win.

Rolen did enter the game as a defensive replacement in the ninth and made a diving stop to rob David Wright of a hit.

The series shifts to St. Louis for Game Three on Saturday night, when the Mets will try to bounce back from their first loss of the postseason.

"We've had bigger challenges than this," said Mets manager Willie Randolph, whose team had won eight straight games, dating to the regular season. "We're even right now. We'll get back at it tomorrow and pick up a W."

La Russa benched Rolen, who has been battling a sore shoulder and is just 1-for-14 this postseason. Spiezio took his place and delivered a two-run triple in the seventh that tied the game at 6-6.

Pujols kept the inning alive, lining a single on the 11th pitch from reliever Guillermo Mota with two outs. Mota walked Jim Edmonds before Spiezio belted a pitch down the right field line. Shawn Green kept the ball in the park with a leap at the wall, but it deflected off his glove as two runs scored.

"I thought I had it timed right," Green said. "The only thing that went wrong is the ball wasn't in my glove."

Aaron Heilman came on and kept the score tied by getting Encarnacion to ground out with Spiezio at third.

The postponement of Wednesday's series opener allowed La Russa to move up Chris Carpenter to Friday and still work on regular rest. But the Cardinals' ace was nowhere near his best, allowing five runs, six hits and four walks in five innings.

"I wasn't able to do the job, but a win is a win," Carpenter said.

Delgado belted a three-run homer in the first and added a solo shot in the fifth against Carpenter to give the Mets a 5-4 lead. Paul Lo Duca's RBI double in the sixth gave New York a two-run cushion.

Delgado tied the franchise postseason record of four RBI set by Rusty Staub against Cincinnati in Game Three of the 1973 NLCS. He also became the first Met with two homers in a postseason game since Edgardo Alfonzo did it against Arizona in a 1999 Division Series.

"It was a good opportunity for a win, but we're not going to roll over," Delgado said.

Mets rookie John Maine also struggled, allowing four runs - three earned - two hits and five walks before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the fourth.

Jose Reyes was just 2-for-16 in the postseason before doubling to right field against Carpenter in the first inning. Lo Duca sacrificed and Beltran walked to set the stage for Delgado's homer.

An error in the next inning by Delgado allowed the Cardinals to slice the deficit to 3-2. The veteran first baseman booted a grounder by Spiezio to put runners on second and third. Two batters later, Yadier Molina sliced a two-run double to right field.

Reyes made it 4-2 with an RBI single in the bottom of second to score Endy Chavez, who reached on a leadoff double. Chavez started in left field in place of Cliff Floyd, who aggravated an Achilles tendon injury on Thursday.

Maine quickly gave the lead back, however, allowing an opposite-field two-run homer to Edmonds in the third that tied the game at 4-4.

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