Cards ride Suppan's arm, bat to victory
Right-hander smacks homer, shuts out Mets for eight innings
ST. LOUIS -- Jeff Suppan came up one inning short of a complete game in the statistical sense, but his performance on Saturday night couldn't have been any more complete if he'd pitched nine more frames.
Suppan was brilliant in all facets of the game -- pitching, hitting and defense -- and as a result, the Cardinals now find themselves halfway to the World Series. Behind the steady veteran's big night, the Cardinals beat the Mets, 5-0, at Busch Stadium in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.
St. Louis now leads the best-of-seven series, two games to one, with Games 4 and 5 set for Busch on Sunday and Monday.
Suppan pitched perhaps the game of his career against a potent Mets lineup, and put a cherry on top with a home run. He worked eight innings, allowing three hits and one walk with four strikeouts.
"What he did on the mound was fantastic -- working both sides of the plate, mixing in the breaking ball, changeup, everything," said shortstop David Eckstein.
"And then coming up in the second inning, leading it off with the home run -- he just put a good, short, quick swing on the ball and luckily it hit off the top of the wall and bounced the right way."
The Cardinals chased Mets starter Steve Trachsel before he got an out in the second inning, hanging five runs on him thanks to five hits and five bases on balls. Scott Spiezio had yet another key hit, a two-run triple that plated the game's first runs.
Suppan's leadoff homer in the second made it 3-0, and the final two runs against Trachsel came on a wild pitch and a Jim Edmonds groundout.
"They came out strong," Suppan said of his teammates. "It was my job to kind of not screw it up. I was just trying to mix my pitches, locate my pitches and not give them any chance. They're a great offensive team and they've done some tremendous things. So I was just trying to keep the momentum on our side."
Suppan hit his dinger on an 0-2 offering from Trachsel, sending the crowd of 47,053 into delirium. He has exactly one regular-season home run in his big-league career, and it too came off Trachsel, in 2005. Suppan even put down a pair of well-executed sacrifice bunts and made a nifty play on a high chopper in the first inning.
Facing one of the NL's deepest and most dangerous lineups, Suppan quickly set the tone. He retired the first two batters before permitting Carlos Beltran's single. After Beltran stole second, Carlos Delgado hit a high hopper up the middle, and Suppan snared it for out No. 3.
Suppan's mates quickly gave him a lead to work with. Eckstein was picked off after a single, but the next two men reached base to keep the pressure on Trachsel. With two out, Spiezio tripled to right field, making it 2-0.
Suppan breezed through the next half-inning, and opened the bottom of the second with the fourth postseason home run by a pitcher in franchise history. It was the fifth long ball hit by a pitcher in NLCS play, and the first since Kerry Wood for the Cubs in 2003. The last Cardinal to go deep in the postseason was Bob Gibson in the 1968 World Series.
Pitchers with a home run in the NLCS
"I thought [left fielder Endy Chavez] was going to catch it on the track, to be honest with you," Suppan said. "I just put my head down and ran as hard as I could."
Two walks and a Preston Wilson single off Trachsel's leg loaded the bases, and the Mets starter was gone. After Trachsel left with a thigh contusion, reliever Darren Oliver's wild pitch made it 4-0 and Edmonds' grounder completed the scoring.
Suppan faced one last danger spot in the third, when Jose Reyes smacked a two-out triple. With the dangerous heart of the order looming, however, Suppan struck out Paul Lo Duca on a fastball down and in, and he was scarcely touched after that -- though the defensive highlights were just getting started.
Wilson threw out Jose Valentin when he tried to take an extra base on a single to right field in the fourth. In the fifth, Rolen made a spectacular barehanded play on a high chopper, throwing out Lo Duca for the third out. The six-time Gold Glove third baseman was at it again in the seventh, finishing off the inning with a backhanded reaction play on a short-hop ball from David Wright.
"With how our defense was playing tonight, I was just trying to keep the Mets on the ground," Suppan said. "There were some tremendous plays out there that really helped me get out of some innings. It was a good team win."
Suppan improved to 4-2 lifetime in seven postseason starts, and he lowered his playoff ERA to 3.07. He may not be known as a star outside of St. Louis, but as far as his teammates are concerned, he's a big-game pitcher.
"The defense was great behind Supp, but you can't play good defense if you don't make good pitches," Rolen said. "He was getting ground balls and everybody seemed to be in the right spots. When he's making his pitches and putting the ball where he wants to, balls get hit at the defense.
"Everybody's happy for Supp. Supp's a great guy, a great teammate and a great professional."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.