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10/09/06 1:56 AM ET

Chess Match: Cards make right calls

Hit-and-run, starting Spiezio work out perfectly for La Russa

ST. LOUIS -- In a battle of veteran managers, Cards skipper Tony La Russa came out on top of the Padres' Bruce Bochy. St. Louis rallied for a 6-2 win Sunday night in Game 4 of the National League Division Series, punching a ticket for a trip to the NL Championship Series this week. The Mets will be waiting.

Doing the little things

The situation: After the Padres took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, Preston Wilson hit a one-out single in the bottom of the inning to bring dangerous slugger Albert Pujols to the plate.

The decision: On a 3-2 pitch, La Russa put on a hit-and-run.

The outcome: Pujols hit a ground ball to third base that almost certainly would have been an inning-ending double play. But that option was closed because Wilson was on the move, and it extended the inning for Ronnie Belliard's two-run single three batters later.

"Albert strikes out maybe 50 times a year. If you want to start a runner with anybody on base, start with Albert," La Russa said later. "He'll put the ball in play 90 out of 100 times."

Back even at 2-2, it was a whole new ballgame.

Give it to the kid

The situation: The Cardinals took a 3-2 lead on Juan Encarnacion's RBI triple off Padres starter Woody Williams in the bottom of the sixth. Williams was at the 82-pitch mark.

The decision: Bochy called for right-handed reliever Cla Meredith, a rookie who led NL relievers during the regular season with a 1.39 ERA and a .170 opponents' batting average.

The outcome: Meredith and the Padres struggled. By the time the inning was over, the Cardinals had scored four runs on three hits, a walk, a hit batsman, an error by third baseman Russell Branyan and a perfect David Eckstein squeeze bunt. Meredith conceded he may have been too strike-happy in the inning.

Rolen out, Spiezio in

The situation: After batting .227 in September and 1-for-11 in the series, Cards third baseman Scott Rolen admitted to La Russa that his surgically repaired left shoulder was "sore fatigued."

The decision: La Russa benched Rolen and went with utility man Scott Spiezio.

The outcome: Spiezio went untested at third base and delivered a key hit that kept the team's big sixth-inning rally going. After a popout and a groundout in his previous at-bats, Spiezio hit an RBI single off Meredith, and St. Louis was on its way to a third consecutive appearance in the NLCS.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.