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Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It all comes down to this. The New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals will play a deciding Game 7 in the National League Championship Series this evening at Shea Stadium.
The Mets staved off elimination on Wednesday, as Jose Reyes led off the game with a homer and Paul Lo Duca's two-run single in the seventh inning proved to be the difference as New York rolled to a 4-2 win.
Reyes ended 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two stolen bases for the Mets, who got to St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter early, added two runs off former teammate Braden Looper in the seventh and withstood another poor performance by closer Billy Wagner in the ninth.
New York starter John Maine (1-0) allowed just two hits, struck out five and walked four over 5 1/3 innings to pick up his first career postseason win. Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota, Aaron Heilman and Wagner closed things out for New York, which improved to 6-1 in elimination games at home.
"John pitched a great ballgame," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "Didn't lose his cool, he stayed poised and made some pitches when he had to. His M.O. has been pretty consistent, keeps you in the game and every once in a while, he'll make a mistake like most pitchers do. The thing I love about him is that he didn't really waver too much, and as he's pitched for us and been here, he's gotten stronger and stronger to execute his pitches and stay in his rhythm. So he did a great job for us, did what he wanted to do and just keep us in the ballgame and gives us a chance to go to our bullpen."
Carpenter (2-1) suffered his first setback of the playoffs, surrendering two runs on seven hits with four strikeouts over six innings. The reigning Cy Young winner was strong for the most part, but his offense let him down.
Albert Pujols had two of the seven hits for the Cardinals, who stranded eight runners on base and didn't score until there were two outs in the ninth. So Taguchi drove in both runs with a double off Wagner for St. Louis.
Taguchi is 4-for-4 in the postseason, including a go-ahead homer against Wagner in a 9-6 Game 2 victory.
This game was over in the first inning. After the Cardinals left the bases loaded in the top of the first inning, Reyes gave New York the lead by driving Carpenter's third pitch of the game over the wall in right to start the home half of the inning.
"My team told me that I have to get on base," said Reyes. "Every time I get on base something good happens. I was able to get on base a lot and we were able to win the game. That's the most important thing."
Jeff Suppan will get the call for the Cards tonight. Suppan is no stranger to Game 7's and was on the hill the last time St. Louis played in one, back in the 2004 NLCS against the Houston Astros. He was sensational that night, as he allowed one earned run over six innings and outdueled Roger Clemens to get the Cards to the World Series.
The 31-year-old right-hander was also brilliant in his Game 3 start against the Mets, as he scattered three hits over eight scoreless innings to pick up the win. That start was far better than his outing in the NLDS against the Padres, who banged Suppan around for three runs and six hits in 4 1/3 frames.
Suppan was 5-5 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts on the road this season.
The Mets, meanwhile, will roll the dice with Oliver Perez, who was chosen by Randolph ahead of Steve Trachsel and Darren Oliver to start tonight's contest. The left-hander, who went just 3-13 in the regular season with Pittsburgh and New York, allowed five runs and nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in Game 4 on Sunday. He also allowed three homers, but received 11 runs of support and picked up the win in the 12-5 victory.
"He's done a nice job for us since he's been here, very similar to Johnny Maine in a lot of ways," Randolph said. "He's throwing the ball well. Last time he threw the ball real well. Like I said earlier, he needs to give us another quality start and just go with everything we've got tomorrow. Seventh game is exciting, and we're looking forward to that challenge.
The 25-year-old is statistically the worst pitcher to ever start a Game 7. His 6.55 ERA this season is easily the highest of any hurler in this spot, surpassing Hal Gregg, who started Game 7 of the 1947 World Series for the Brooklyn Dodgers with a 5.87 ERA. Perez's three wins this year are also the fewest, one less than Gregg's two in 1947.
Only four pitchers with sub-.500 records have started a Game 7, but Perez's .188 winning percentage is by far the worst.
"This ballclub has trust in Oliver," said catcher Paul Lo Duca. "He's going to do a good job. He threw the ball well in St. Louis and the energy is going to be high and the place is going to be electric. We have our work cut out for us."
GAME 7 HISTORY
History could be on the side of the Mets tonight, as the past 11 home teams that won Game 6 of an LCS or World Series also won Game 7. One of the teams to do it was the Mets, who defeated the Boston Red Sox in the final two games of the 1986 World Series at Shea.
The Cardinals, though, will be playing in their major league record 14th Game 7 and own a 9-4 record in such contests. However, they have been outscored 30-2 in their last three Game 7's on the road.
Unfortunately for St. Louis, no team has won Game 7 of an LCS on the road after losing the previous contest. The last time any team won Game 7 of a postseason series after losing Game 6 was in the historic 1975 World Series, when the Cincinnati Reds overcame a game-winning homer by Carlton Fisk in Game 6 to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the final game.
Of the last 11 LCS Game 7's, seven have been won by the home team. Since 1985, the home team is 5-2 in deciding games. Four of them have ended in shutouts.
ROLEN ON THE BENCH?
Heading into tonight's crucial Game 7 the big question amongst fans in St. Louis is whether or not Tony La Russa should bench superstar third baseman Scott Rolen for tonight's game.
Rolen, who hit a big home run in the Cards' NLCS clincher in 2004, has been abysmal this postseason, hitting just .179 with no homers and no RBI. Against the Mets he is just 4-for-14.
"I'm 100 percent of what I can be when I go out there," Rolen said. "I believe in the man. I believe in the heart. I don't believe in any of the other stuff that swirls around, any of the numbers. I'm going out there with the only way I know to go out there. I have faith in the human, in the man. That's the way I go out on the field. Am I hurt? No. I'm as good as I can be every night when I go out there. I'm not going to make any excuses about it."
If La Russa does opt to sit Rolen, Preston Wilson will get the call in left field, while Scott Spiezio mans the hot corner. Wilson is batting .227 this postseason, while Spiezio has driven in five RBI this series.
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