Maine shuts down Cardinals as Mets send NLCS to Game SevenOct 19, 2006 - 3:18 AM FLUSHING, New York (Ticker) -- There are some gaping holes in the New York Mets' postseason rotation. John Maine filled one with the biggest performance of his life, preserving the Mets' season until a winner-take-all showdown on Thursday night.
Maine pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings to outduel Chris Carpenter and the Mets survived a late scare from Billy Wagner to even the National League Championship Series at three games apiece with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jose Reyes hit a first-inning leadoff homer, Shawn Green had an RBI single and Paul Lo Duca delivered a two-run base hit for the Mets, who will host the seventh and deciding game Thursday at Shea Stadium.
Jeff Suppan, the winning pitcher in Game Three, will start for the Cardinals. Oliver Perez, a 13-game loser during the regular season, will take the mound for the Mets on three days' rest.
"Since (Perez) has been here, he's stepped up to the challenge many times," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's stepped up to the challenge many times."
Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez are already out of the playoff rotation due to injuries and Steve Trachsel was ineffective in Game Three of this series. Ace lefthander Tom Glavine was defeated in Game Five, forcing the Mets to put all their faith in Maine, a rookie righthander who had been shaky in a Game Two start against Carpenter.
"I'm nervous before every start. I try not to put pressure on myself," Maine said. "Tonight I knew everything was riding on it. I'm just glad with the results."
Maine (1-0) was cool under pressure, working out of two early jams. He allowed just a pair of hits, walked four - one intentional - and struck out five, giving the Mets a chance to play for their first World Series appearance since 2000.
"I think we saw the maturation of a kid who's going to be a good pitcher for a long time," Lo Duca said. "He grew a lot tonight, and this is a step forward in his career."
The Cardinals, seeking their second appearance in the Fall Classic in three years, were unable to get the big hit. Scott Rolen was a key culprit, flying out with the bases loaded in the first and grounding into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
Cardinals star Albert Pujols had two of his team's seven hits, but still has just one RBI in the series.
Maine allowed a leadoff walk to Jim Edmonds in the sixth and left after getting Juan Encarnacion on a fly ball to left field. Chad Bradford relieved and got Rolen to ground into a double play.
Ronnie Belliard had a leadoff single in the seventh for St. Louis, but rookie Chris Duncan grounded into a double play off Guillermo Mota to end the frame.
Aaron Heilman worked around a two-out single to Pujols in the eighth and Wagner surrendered a two-run pinch double to So Taguchi in the ninth before retiring tying run David Eckstein on a grounder to close it out.
"I'm glad we played it until the end, because that's our style," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Carpenter (2-1), the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, failed to deliver for the Cardinals for the second time in the series.
"It's about executing your pitches," Carpenter said. "I was able to get my breaking ball over. I made two mistakes that hurt me. The cutter to Reyes to lead the game off didn't cut and he hit it out."
The righthander was ineffective in his Game Two outing, allowing five runs in six innings. While he was much better in this one, yielding two runs and seven hits in six innings, it still was not enough against Maine, who worked out of jams in the first and third.
"I think we could have gotten to (Maine) early," Cardinals outfielder Scott Spiezio said. "We just missed some balls. We let him off the hook."
The Cardinals put runners on second and third with one out in the opening frame before Maine struck out Edmonds. Maine then hit Encarnacion with a pitch but got Rolen on a fly ball to right field. Lo Duca may have saved a run in the inning when he blocked a pitch in the dirt to Rolen.
St. Louis had two on with one out in the third before Edmonds lined out and Encarnacion struck out.
Reyes became the fourth Met to lead off the first inning of a postseason game with a home run when he connected on a 1-1 pitch from Carpenter.
"I'm happy I put my team up," said Reyes, who had three of his team's 10 hits. "After that, I wanted to stay focused for nine innings."
Reyes' homer was the first leadoff blast for New York in a playoff game since Lenny Dykstra in Game Three of the 1986 World Series. In fact, each of the Mets' previous three leadoff blasts had come in Game Threes of the Fall Classic.
"That home run was huge. It put an instant run on the board in an elimination game," Green said. "It set the tone."
The Mets increased the lead to 2-0 in the fourth on singles by Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Green.
New York scored twice in the seventh off former Met Braden Looper. Pinch hitter Michael Tucker and Reyes singled and stole a base and both scored on a single by Lo Duca.
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