NEW YORK (AP) – With the New York Mets on the brink of elimination, John Maine pitched a game to remember.
The rookie dominated the St. Louis Cardinals with the poise of a veteran, Jose Reyes sparked the offense with a leadoff home run and the Mets rock ‘n’ rolled at boisterous Shea Stadium to beat St. Louis 4-2 on last night and force the NL championship series to a decisive seventh game.
“He was amazing,” Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. “I think after the first inning he really settled down. … He showed me a lot tonight.”
Reyes had three hits and two stolen bases, Shawn Green boosted the lead with a fourth-inning RBI single and Lo Duca let the loud crowd of 56,334 exhale with a two-run single in the seventh off Braden Looper that made it 4-0.
Now the pennant comes down to Thursday night, when the Cardinals send Jeff Suppan to the mound to save their season. The Mets, carefully piecing together their pitching following injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, will start Oliver Perez on three days’ rest.
Of 11 prior teams to trail 3-2 in the LCS and force a seventh game, eight won pennants. The exceptions were the 1988 Mets, the 1992 Pittsburgh Pirates and 2003 Boston Red Sox.
Darting in and out of trouble twice in the first three innings, Maine outpitched reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter. Maine allowed two hits in the first and none after that, pitching 5 1-3 shutout innings, striking out five and walking four.
“I went to him before the game, and I said, ‘I wouldn’t want anybody else but you. Let’s go!’ ” Lo Duca said.
When it was time to come out, he was circled on the mound like a conquering hero: Reyes patted him on the back and David Wright patted him on the shoulder. Maine acknowledged the standing ovation with only a small wave of his left hand as he walked to the dugout.
“I try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Maine said. “I just try to pound the strike zone and get them to put it in play.”
Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner finished. Wagner gave up a two-run, two-out double to So Taguchi in the ninth before retiring David Eckstein on a game-ending grounder.
In a rematch of Game 2 starters who didn’t get decisions, Carpenter was nearly as good, just not enough on this night. He gave up two runs and seven hits in six innings, dropping to 0-1 in his two starts.
Shea Stadium was rocking, with the volume on the speakers turned up and the scoreboard flashing quotes from Mets players praising the fans. In the first Game 6 at the ballpark since the famous comeback against Boston that was capped by Mookie Wilson’s grounder through Bill Buckner’s legs, the spirit of ’86 was invoked on several signs.
“Uno, dos, adios,” read another sign.
Maine, a 25-year-old right-hander, was obtained in January’s dump of Kris Benson to Baltimore. In a tense time, he provided the cool of a veteran – on days he pitches, he usually sits by himself in the clubhouse before the game doing Sudoku puzzles.
He got in trouble in the first and third innings, but came up with the big outs, perhaps the biggest of his life. St. Louis had runners at second and third with one out in the first, before Maine fanned Jim Edmonds on three pitches and loaded the bases by hitting Juan Encarnacion. Lo Duca saved a run with a backhand stop of a pitch in the dirt on a 1-2 pitch to Scott Rolen, who then flied out.
Eckstein walked leading off the third and stole second, but Maine struck out Scott Spiezio and, after intentionally walking Albert Pujols, retired Edmonds on a flyout and struck out Encarnacion.
That left St. Louis 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Maine didn’t allow any runners past first after that.
Reyes’ home run, a no-doubt-about-it drive to right-center, was his first in postseason play – his first since Sept. 10. It was the first leadoff homer Carpenter allowed.
New York used small ball to double its lead in the fourth. Carlos Beltran singled into left field leading off, advanced on a one-out single by Wright – just his second hit in 19 at-bats in the LCS. Green then hit an opposite-field liner into left.
Bradford got Rolen to hit into an inning-ending double play in the sixth, and Mota retired pinch-hitter Chris Duncan on an inning-ending double play in the seventh. Then, following singles by pinch-hitter and Reyes in the bottom half, Lo Duca got the big single against Looper.