Rookie pitcher John Maine dominated, Jose Reyes hit a leadoff home run and the New York Mets beat the St Louis Cardinals 4-2 on Wednesday to force the National League Championship Series to a decisive seventh game.
Reyes had three hits and two stolen bases, Shawn Green boosted the lead with a fourth-inning RBI single and Paul Lo Duca let the loud Shea Stadium crowd of 56,334 exhale with a two-run single in the seventh off Braden Looper that made it 4-0.
As a result, who goes to the World Series was to be decided yesterday, when the Cardinals planned to 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, were to start erratic lefty Oliver Perez on three days' rest.
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 five-and-a-third 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!'" Mets catcher Lo Duca said. "He was amazing."
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 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, with Wagner allowing a two-run, two-out double to So Taguchi in the ninth.
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 playoff starts.
The Mets had an advantage yesterday: The past 11 home teams that won Game 6 of an LCS or World Series to stave off elimination have won Game 7, too. The last time a home team dropped Game 7 after winning Game 6 was 1975, when Boston lost to Cincinnati's Big Red Machine.
But St Louis has this going for them: No team in Major League Baseball history has won more do-or-die Game 7s than the Cardinals, who are 9-4 in those instances. In fact, they captured their most recent pennant by beating Houston in Game 7 in 2004.