Cards stun Mets on Taguchi's homer
Reserve outfielder evens NLCS with long ball in ninth
NEW YORK -- Maybe it's time for So Taguchi to get some more playing time. Then again, maybe he's a perfect fit for tactical deployments like the one he received on Friday night.
Taguchi's second at-bat of the 2006 postseason ended with his second home run of the 2006 postseason, a tie-breaking shot in the top of the ninth inning that sent the Cardinals to a 9-6 win over the Mets at Shea Stadium. Taguchi had entered the game an inning earlier as a defensive replacement for left fielder Chris Duncan.
Taguchi, best known for his defense, hit two home runs in 316 regular-season at-bats this year. In 448 Major League games, he's gone deep a grand total of 16 times. Suffice it to say Taguchi isn't anyone's idea of a power threat.
Or at least, he wasn't.
"One of So's qualities is he really plays well late in the game," said manager Tony La Russa. "Ever since he first got here, September of 2002 -- whenever it was, in September -- he got a couple big hits. He plays well late."
The Cards rallied from deficits of 3-0, 4-2 and 6-4 in the game, and did not lead until Taguchi went yard. The three-run rally made a winner of rookie Josh Kinney, who escaped from a two-on, one-out jam in the bottom of the eighth.
St. Louis relievers pitched four solid innings behind ace Chris Carpenter, who scuffled for five frames. Still, Carpenter's streak continued -- St. Louis is 6-0 when he starts a playoff game.
"Obviously it wasn't the stuff I was looking for, but it worked out and we won," Carpenter said. "So I'm not concerned about the way I worked. I'm happy for our club to battle and win a game."
Taguchi fell behind Mets closer Billy Wagner -- who has tormented St. Louis over the years -- with two quick strikes. But he worked the count full and fouled off two 3-2 pitches in a lengthy at-bat before driving Wagner's ninth offering over the left-field wall.
"My stats against Billy Wagner were maybe 0-for-something," Taguchi said. "I never got on base, and always strike out, ground ball, pop up. So, I just stayed on top of the ball and try to get on base."
That wasn't all against the fireballing lefty, though. Albert Pujols doubled, Scott Spiezio doubled Pujols home and Juan Encarnacion added an RBI single in a three-run frame.
Wagner was ultimately charged with three runs in two-thirds of an inning -- a stark contrast to the rest of his career. In 54 1/3 regular-season innings against St. Louis, Wagner has allowed a total of nine runs.
A Mets bullpen that was considered a significant advantage coming into the series was outpitched by its less-heralded counterparts on Friday. St. Louis broke through against Guillermo Mota, as well as Wagner, while the no-name Cards relief corps held down a potent offense over the final innings. Randy Flores got five outs, Kinney performed his Houdini act in the eighth and Tyler Johnson and Adam Wainwright tag-teamed the ninth.
Wainwright wasn't credited with a save, because he recorded only the final two outs, but he certainly earned his money just the same when he induced groundouts from David Wright and Shawn Green.
"It seems like every time one of our bullpen guys gets into a situation, it seems like you can't ask anything more and then they just do something better," Wainwright said. "[Kinney] has gotten two big double plays for us now. And the rest of our bullpen's pitching great, too. We're doing good so far, but it's not over yet. We've got to keep going."
Spiezio's RBI capped a big night for the Redbirds' super-utility man. Playing in place of Scott Rolen, who was held out of the lineup due to his offensive struggles, Spiezio also had a two-run triple, walked, and reached on an error and scored. Rolen took over at third base in the ninth.
Spiezio's triple in the seventh capped what may actually have been the most pivotal inning of the night. Trailing, 6-4, and having been kept off the board since the third, the Cards assembled a two-out rally.
Albert Pujols battled through an 11-pitch at-bat before singling off Mota, and Jim Edmonds followed with a walk. Spiezio fell behind Mota, 0-2, before lacing his triple into the right-field corner.
"He threw me two changeups and I swung through them," Spiezio said. "So I had to kind of shorten my swing in my mind and be ready for that changeup again. He threw me two fastballs, pulled the first one foul. Second one, I got enough of it and it got in a hair, but I got enough of it at least to get it over [right fielder] Green's glove, barely. But I'll take it."
The triple bounced off Green's wrist and hit the very top of the right-field wall, and many Cardinals thought it was a home run. However, the umpiring crew conferred and deemed that the ball never left the field of play.
Flores pitched through the seventh with the tie game intact, but Kinney found himself in trouble in the eighth. A single and a walk, both with one out, brought up Cardinal-killer Carlos Beltran. Kinney, undaunted, induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning, giving the St. Louis offense a chance to win the game.
"It is a good feeling individually, getting anybody out in that situation," Kinney said. "But it's more for our team. That's a huge inning there. I can't give up any runs there. We go into that inning tied, then we come up to hit and look what happened. It was a big inning."
Minutes after facing the possibility of a daunting 2-0 deficit in the series, the Cardinals head home with the series tied. It's now a best-of-five, with three of the games at Busch Stadium -- starting Saturday.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.