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Cards strike late for needed win
Late-game replacement So Taguchi hits a home run in the ninth, helping St. Louis to a 9-6 victory.
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published October 14, 2006
NEW YORK - If the Cardinals win the NL Championship Series, they'll be able to look at Friday's Game 2 as the turning point.
St. Louis entered the evening having lost eight of their past nine NLCS road games. St. Louis was 4-13 on the road in NLCS play under manager Tony La Russa.
Pitching their ace, right-hander Chris Carpenter, didn't help. Neither did the umpires who ruled Scott Spiezio's possible winning hit a triple instead of a home run.
But late-game replacement So Taguchi did. He hit the winning home run in the top of the ninth off Mets closer Billy Wagner in a 9-6 win over New York in front of a record crowd of 56,349 at Shea Stadium, handing the Mets their first loss in five postseason games.
"This is going to be a good one to think back on," La Russa said. "It's a heck of a win. It's an important win. It gives us a chance to come back and win the series."
Taguchi has just two postseason at-bats, both home runs. He hit just two home runs in 316 at-bats in the regular season. He was hitless in five previous at-bats against Wagner. But Friday, his homer seemed to rattle Wagner and ignited a three-run ninth inning. Wagner allowed four hits in the inning - including run-scoring hits by Spiezio and Juan Encarnacion - before leaving to a chorus of boos.
"I can't explain it," Taguchi said of the home run. "Who would expect me to hit a home run. Nobody, not even me."
"They battled back and got some tough 0-2 hits. They must have fouled off 60, 70 pitches," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "That's how you get back, scratching and clawing."
Spiezio - receiving a rare postseason start at third in place of the ailing Scott Rolen, who sat out at the wishes of La Russa - almost played the role of hero. He lined Mets reliever Guillermo Mota's pitch to right with two outs in the seventh inning. Rightfielder Shawn Green made a jumping attempt to catch the ball, but replays showed it hit off his glove, off the top of the outfield wall and back into play.
The triple scored two runs to tie the game at 6, but the Cardinals thought the ball deflected off the black wall that hangs the Mets championship banners just beyond the rightfield fence, which would have made it a home run.
But rightfield umpire Tim Welke initially ruled the hit a triple and then conferred with the other umpires.
"The entire crew was in agreement from their respective vantage points," Welke said.
Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado hit two opposite-field home runs, a three-run shot in the first and a solo homer in the fifth, both of which gave New York the lead.
Carpenter, the reigning Cy Young winner, didn't give the Cardinals the outing they needed. He entered Friday's game looking to further cement his name as a big-game playoff pitcher. He entered the game 4-0 with a 2.10 ERA in five postseason starts, including a 2-0 mark with a 2.03 ERA in the NL Division Series.
Carpenter was slated to pitch tonight's Game 3 at home, where he owned a 1.81 ERA in the regular season, but La Russa moved him to Friday to allow him to pitch on his normal day.
The Mets got to Carpenter early. He allowed four runs in the first two innings.
Carpenter lasted five innings, allowing five runs on six hits, walking four and hitting one batter.
Mets starter John Maine, 25, was hurt by five walks and yielded four runs - three earned - in four innings despite allowing just two hits.