ST. LOUIS -- It was the story of two outings for the Mets in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals. One put the Mets behind in the series, 2-1, while the other saved the bullpen.

Reliever Darren Oliver replaced starter Steve Trachsel in the second inning of Saturday night's game at Busch Stadium and pitched six shutout innings. Trachsel left due to a right thigh contusion after facing only 12 batters.

With David Eckstein on first base and no outs, St. Louis' Preston Wilson hit a hard grounder that struck Trachsel's right thigh and ricocheted into left field for a base hit, putting runners on first and third.

Trachsel tried to gut it out, but he walked Albert Pujols before leaving the game.

"It stiffened up so quickly. It kind of took me by surprise," Trachsel said. "The last couple of pitches to Pujols, I wasn't able to push off [my back leg]. I was just throwing with my arms. That's not going to work. We are treating [it] right now, so we'll see."

It was a rough outing for Trachsel from the start. He gave up five runs, five hits and five walks in his one-plus inning of work.

"Obviously, Trachsel was struggling a little bit early -- putting some men on base early, walked three or four, five guys -- and that's really what helped set everything up," manager Willie Randolph said. "Walking a good hitting ballclub like that is not going to help you, and they took advantage of it."

Trachsel even gave up a solo home run in the second inning to right-hander Jeff Suppan, who hit his only other big-league home run against Trachsel on Sept. 10, 2005.

"Yeah, he hit it off me," Trachsel said. "It's the pitch we wanted to throw. It was a fastball down and in. He dropped the head on it. It's not like it was a fastball belt-high in the middle of the plate. It wasn't really a mistake. You didn't want it to happen here tonight."

Oliver wasn't even warming up in the bullpen when Randolph called him into the game. Oliver needed several minutes to warm up because of the cold weather. The game-time temperature was 52 degrees.

"When the weather is like it is here, it's tough," Oliver said. "But when it's a playoff game, you have to be ready when they call for you."

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The first batter Oliver faced was Jim Edmonds. With the count 2-0, Oliver threw a wild pitch, which allowed Eckstein to score and give the Cardinals a 5-0 lead. Oliver then stopped St. Louis' momentum by pitching six shutout innings. He struck three and walked one.

"I just went out there and tried to go as long as I could and as hard as I could," Oliver said. "I was keeping the ball down. I was going out throwing strikes, first-pitch strikes. [The Cardinals] were swinging the bat pretty aggressively. I was hoping to make a good pitch and hoping they would hit it right at somebody, which they did tonight."

Oliver had the second-longest relief outing in an NLCS game, behind only Nolan Ryan's seven innings for the Mets on Oct. 6, 1969, against the Braves.

Oliver's outing gave the rest of the Mets relievers a much-needed night off. All of them, except for Oliver, had pitched in Game 2 at Shea Stadium the previous night.

"Oliver was outstanding," Randolph said. "[It] gave us a chance to have everybody fresh, our main guys for [Sunday]. [He did] a superlative job coming in, giving us a chance to get back in the game. We didn't do much to get back in, but you know it was huge for him to be able to give us a little blow and have our main guys ready to go [Sunday]."

Oliver's superb outing may have earned him a chance to start if the NLCS goes to a Game 7 and Trachsel can't go because of his thigh injury. Oliver has spent most of his career as a starter. While the veteran lefty didn't want to talk about the possibility of starting, pitching coach Rick Peterson didn't rule it out.

"We don't know the extent of Trachsel's injury," Peterson said. "That could be a major factor. Certainly the kind of job [Oliver did] and being a guy who started before, it could make a bid for a point of discussion. That remains to be seen. We have not had any discussion whatsoever."