Yadier Molina's tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning and another pitching gem from Jeff Suppan led the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-1 on Thursday and into the World Series.
The Cardinals earned their second National League pennant in three years and a date with the Detroit Tigers today in Game 1 of the World Series.
"Our team deserves it," Cardinals rookie closer Adam Wainwright said. "We battled so hard in the playoffs."
Wainwright wriggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth, striking out St. Louis nemesis Carlos Beltran to end Game 7 of the NL championship series and leave a stunned crowd of 56,357 in deflated silence just moments after it had Shea Stadium shaking.
Molina, a .216 career hitter with only six home runs during the regular season, drove the first pitch he saw from reliever Aaron Heilman into New York's bullpen for a 3-1 lead in the ninth.
Endy Chavez, who made one of the most memorable playoff catches just three innings earlier when he reached above the eight-foot fence to snag Scott Rolen's shot in the tip of his right glove, could only stand and watch at the left-field fence as the Mets' World Series hopes were dashed.
In the ninth, Rolen got the St. Louis rally started with a single before Molina's shot.
But the Mets, resilient throughout their stirring season, nearly came back in the ninth.
Jose Valentin and Chavez opened the inning with singles before pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd struck out looking. Jose Reyes lined out to center for the second out, but Paul Lo Duca drew a walk that loaded the bases.
That brought up Beltran, who homered three times in the series after hitting .417 with four home runs for Houston in the 2004 NLCS against St. Louis.
Wainwright, filling in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen, got ahead in the count immediately and froze Beltran with a breaking ball for strike three. It was his third save in the series.
"It's really disappointing. It was a great game," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "We just didn't get any big hits."
The Cardinals, with their 17th pennant in hand, charged out of the dugout and mobbed Wainwright in front of the mound.
Suppan won the MVP award for two outstanding starts. He limited the Mets to one run and five hits in 15 innings, and once again was at his best in a big game.
Suppan, who won Game 3, is 106-101 lifetime, but 2-1 with a 1.69 in five NLCS starts. In 2004, he outpitched Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the NLCS to lead St. Louis over Houston.
"We never gave up. We always believed in ourselves," Suppan said.