ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals third baseman David Freese knew the situation.
He knew his team, trailing by a run, needed a hit with runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of seventh inning on Wednesday. He knew losing is not an option right now, not for this team as it tries to chase down the Braves in the National League Wild Card standings.
So Freese took a rip at a fastball from Mets reliever Pedro Beato and drove it into the right-field seats for a dramatic opposite-field three-run home run that propelled the Cardinals to a 6-5 victory in front of 40,658 at Busch Stadium. Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman scored on the play.
"Just get Albert in, that's what I was worried about," said Freese, who also had a two-out, two-run triple in the first inning and finished with five RBIs. "Whenever guys are in scoring position, I try and act like nobody is on base. That's my approach, and that's how I always try to hit, hit line drives."
The Cardinals (86-69) have now won seven out of their past eight games and 12 of 14 and, because of the Marlins' 4-0 win over Braves, are now just 1 1/2 games back in the National League Wild Card race. The surging Redbirds are suddenly now also 4 1/2 games behind the Brewers after they fell, 7-1, to the Cubs.
"We know that we have to go out there, play the game the right way and just execute, and right now, we're doing it," Freese said. "Losing is not an option, and we know that."
After Freese's second big hit, Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia (13-7) and closer Jason Motte did their part to make it stand. Garcia got the first two outs of the eighth inning and Motte recorded the final four outs -- though a solo home run by Willie Harris with two outs in the ninth made it interesting -- to earn his eighth save.
"David Freese was as clutch as Jaime was," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We score six and [Freese] gets five, all with two outs. That's huge. What Jaime did, not getting frustrated and keeping us in the game, was classic. Big contributions from both guys."
The Cardinals broke through early against Mets rookie right-hander Chris Schwinden with Freese's two-run triple to right field with two outs in the first inning -- the second triple of his career.
St. Louis added a run in the second inning.
Yadier Molina led off with a popup near home plate that fell for a single, and Skip Schumaker followed with a bloop double to left field. After a groundout, Rafael Furcal was hit by a pitch, and Allen Craig smacked a single to left field to make it 3-0.
The Mets (73-82) scored four unearned runs in the third off Garcia. Schwinden singled for his first Major League hit, Jose Reyes doubled and both scored when a two-out ground ball from Angel Pagan was mishandled by Furcal at shortstop.
After an infield single by David Wright, rookie pinch-hitter Josh Satin drove a two-run double into the left-center-field gap for his first Major League RBIs and to give the Mets a 4-3 lead.
"We've seen [Garcia] show what he is capable of, but today was a really good example," La Russa said. "What Jaime did to not lose his concentration and keep competing was as impressive as anything he's done for a couple years. And he's done a lot of impressive things."
Schwinden, who was making his third Major League start and first on the road, settled down to shut down the Cardinals from the third until his exit after the sixth inning. He allowed three runs on six hits, striking out five batters, walking two and hitting another.
The rookie was relieved for the seventh inning by former Cardinal Miguel Batista, who retired the first two batters he faced before surrendering a single to Pujols.
After a pitching change, Berkman singled off lefty Daniel Herrera, and Mets manager Terry Collins called to the bullpen again, bringing in the righty Beato to face the right-handed-hitting Freese.
But Freese deposited a 3-1 pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run home run, his 10th of the season and 15th of his career, to put the Cardinals back on top, 6-4.
Garcia retired the first two batters of the eighth inning for the Cardinals before La Russa turned to Motte, who struck out Wright to end the frame.
In 7 2/3 innings, Garcia allowed four runs (all unearned) on six hits, struck out five and hit one batter.
"He goes out there and they get four that inning and he says, 'That's enough,'" Freese said. "You can't take away his effort. He was outstanding."
Harris hit a two-out solo home run in the ninth inning, but Motte then struck out pinch-hitter Josh Thole to end the game.
After Motte recorded the final out, the numbers "1 1/2" flashed across the scoreboard above the right-field stands. The home fans left happy, and the Cardinals left with even more to play for tomorrow.
"One and a half is huge because Atlanta is a good team," Freese said. "They are not going to fold. They are going to keep battling. We have to do our part and hopefully, they fold a little bit more and we sneak in. But it's definitely going to be a grind the rest of the way."
Nate Latsch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.