NEW YORK -- Seventh game heaven.

Baseball hasn't had it for two years. Baseball fans can't get enough of it.

And although the Cardinals may not regard it as a heavenly event, they and the Mets will decide the National League pennant on Thursday night in the ultimate game of the NLCS.

Jeff Suppan of the Cardinals will face Mets left-hander Darren Oliver Perez.

Who?

Well, New York manager Willie Randolph has chosen to go with Oliver Perez, who pitched credibly in winning Game 4. But he will be quick to change to Darren Oliver, who had tendered a brilliant six-inning relief effort in a Game 3 started by Steve Trachsel.

"I'm happy to get the ball for the last game," said Perez, meaning the last game of the NLCS, which New York hopes will not really turn into the last game.

Is momentum, not to mention the uplifting frenzy of 57,000 fans, now with the Mets?

"Who knows?" shrugged Shawn Green. "Momentum has shifted so much this whole series."

History is not with the Cardinals. Under such circumstances -- a Game 6 loss setting up Game 7 -- the last 11 road teams have lost. The last team to safely ride that wave were the 1975 Reds in the World Series, winning in Boston.

This will be MLB's first Game 7 since 2004, when both Championship Series -- Red Sox over Yankees, Cardinals over Astros -- went the distance.

Randolph had no qualms about going with Perez, seeing in him a potential similar to what John Maine realized in his superb 5 1/3-inning shutout turn in Wednesday night's 4-2 victory in Game 6.

"He's done a nice job for us since he's been here," Randolph said of Perez, "very similar to Johnny Maine in a lot of ways. He's throwing the ball well.

"He needs to give us another quality start and just go with everything we've got."

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A man who has lived many Game 7s in Yankee pinstripes, Randolph said with a twinkle in his eyes, "[The] seventh game is exciting, and we're looking forward to that challenge."

Quickly moving beyond the disappointment of having to play it, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa delivered a similar message about Game 7 to his players in the immediate aftermath of the Game 6 defeat.

"It's an experience you'll never forget," La Russa told them. "It will be one of the most enjoyable things, especially if you do it right as far as getting ready and doing the best that you can. You'll never forget it. "

Later, La Russa said, "I'd prefer our club to not go through it, obviously. But it's magical."

Suppan, whom La Russa had hoped to hold back to start Game 1 of the World Series, will now have to pitch in to try to get the Cardinals there.

The veteran right-hander was superb in his Game 3 start in Busch Stadium, blanking the Mets through eight innings of a 5-0 victory.

"We'll have our hands full," Green said. "He threw great against us there."


NLCS Game 7s
The Cardinals and Mets will play a decisive Game 7 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night at Shea Stadium. A look at the previous other Game 7 contests in NLCS history:
Year
Result
Notes
1987
Stl. 6, S.F. 0
Cox's eight-hit shutout
1988
L.A. 6, N.Y. 0
Hershiser's five-hit shutout
1991
Atl. 4, Pit. 0
Smoltz's six-hit shutout
1992
Atl. 3, Pit. 2
ATL scores three in ninth
1996
Atl. 15, Stl. 0
Six-run first for Glavine
2003
Fla. 9, Chi. 6
Fish win 6 and 7 on road
2004
Stl. 5, Hou. 2
Suppan tops Clemens
*Home team in bold
The survival game was ideal for the Mets. Randolph was obviously prepared to do everything necessary to win Game 6, and that included marching everyone out of his bullpen but the security guard. But Maine's effort squirreled away some key arms for the ultimate game.

Foremost was Oliver, the designated long man who was not needed. Left-hander Pedro Feliciano also rested. Of course, in a Game 7, everybody will be on deck. Even, for a key out or two, Game 5 starter Tom Glavine.

La Russa is likely to tinker with his lineup in the aftermath of Wednesday night's disappointment -- not in the loss as much as in what he perceived as a subpar offensive effort.

Had he been told beforehand that the Mets would score four runs, La Russa admitted he would have felt confident of victory. But the Cardinals were scoreless until So Taguchi's pinch-hit two-run double off Billy Wagner with two outs in the ninth.

Furthermore, La Russa has to deal anew with the odd weakness against left-handed pitching of a predominantly right-handed lineup. Including NLCS losses to Glavine and Perez, the Cardinals are 23-36 against southpaws this season.

The Shea Stadium faithful will give them an earful about that. Heck, they will give the Cardinals an earful about anything.

"You're very aware of the fans here," noted Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, "and that's why you work hard all year to get home-field advantage."

Good point: The Mets have won the only home Game 7 in their history, the 1986 World Series clincher against the Red Sox; conversely, they dropped both road Games 7 (1973 World Series at Oakland, 1988 NLCS at Los Angeles).