Friday, October 13, 2006

All the lights up ahead are Cardinal red -- Cards take Game 2. As good as the Mets pitching and the defense were for Game 1 of the National League Championship series, Game 2 was notable for the Mets' lack of clutch pitching and defense. The Mets starting pitcher, John Maine squandered an early 3-0 lead that came on Carlos' Delgado's first inning home run. Later, the Mets bullpen gave back a two-run lead in the seventh inning, a lead which was built on Carlos Delgado's second home run of the game. In both instances, Mets' fielders failed to make plays that would have kept the Cardinals from scoring the key runs. In the seventh inning, Shawn Green nearly made a spectacular catch to rob Scott Spezio of a three-run home run. Instead, Green closed his glove too early and succeeded only in keeping the ball in the field of play, though two runs came in to tie the game.

As I noted after last night's game, the Cardinals have a very good team, and can be expecteed to fight the Mets right down to the wire, each and every night. Though their ace, Chris Carpenter, came up short, the Cardinals' players kept fighting with clutch hitting and strong fielding, including a memorable play by Ronnie Belliard, who covered more ground than I've ever seen a second baseman cover to the shortstop side. This game was a marathon in every respect, including time. Of course, when it comes to long games, if you haven't seen Steve Trachsel pitch, you are in for a real show, of sorts, for Game 3.

For his second straight playoff start, Maine left the game early, as Willie Randolph had a quick hook, relieving Maine after four shaky innings. In the end, though, it was the Mets' greatest strength -- their incomparable bullpen -- that failed them. Guillermo Mota's weak show in the seventh allowed the Cardinals to knot the game at 6-6. It was at that moment that you could feel the game slip away. The Mets had a shot in the 8th inning, but Carlos Beltran grounded into a double play. Finally, the Cardinals broke ahead when So Taguchi fought back from two quick strikes to drive a leadoff home run off Billy Wagner in the ninth. Wagner also yielded two insurance runs on doubles by Pujols and Spezio, and an RBI single by Encarnacion.

Last night, the Mets had every reason to be optimistic. After tonight's game, the Cardinals have the advantage. Tony LaRussa showed why he is still the thinking man's favorite manager -- But, even he had to be surprised by how successful his moves proved to be. Starting in place of Scott Rolen, Spezio drove in 3 big runs. Even a defensive substitution like Taguchi paid off handsomely at the bat. With a 3-run lead in the ninth, LaRussa kept pulling the right strings, having Tyler Johnson in to strike out Delgado and then bringing in rookie Adam Wainwright to close out the game. And Scott Rolen made a great diving play after coming in as a defensive sub for Spezio in the ninth, Right now, everything seems to be breaking the Cardinals' way. With the Mets starting Trachsel in Game 3 and Oliver Perez in game 4, this series may get away from the New Yorkers very quickly.

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