The St. Louis Cardinals were nine outs from digging themselves a deep hole. Now they could be nine innings from taking control of the NL championship series.
One night after a stirring rally to defeat the New York Mets on the road, the Cardinals look to use home field to their advantage Saturday as the NLCS shifts to Busch Stadium for Game 3.
After losing 2-0 in Game 1 on Thursday, St. Louis and New York were tied at 6 heading into the ninth inning Friday before the Cardinals scored three runs off closer Billy Wagner in a 9-6 victory.
So Taguchi hit a tiebreaking solo home run to lead off the inning. The reserve outfielder homered just twice in 316 at-bats during the regular season, but is 2-for-2 with two solo homers in this postseason. He also homered in Game 3 of the division series off San Diego’s Scott Linebrink.
“Unbelievable. We were all jumping around down there,” St. Louis third baseman Scott Spiezio said of Taguchi. “But he’s got a flair for the dramatic. He’s a little guy, but he’s got a lot of power.”
Spiezio also showed power on Friday. Filling in for Scott Rolen at third base, Spiezio’s two-run triple in the seventh off Guillermo Mota tied the game at 6, and he added an RBI double in the ninth after Taguchi’s homer.
Manager Tony La Russa benched Rolen, who is 1-for-14 in the postseason while dealing with a sore left shoulder, but attempted to diffuse any controversy.
“I’m not going to create the problem and I can’t believe he’s going to create the problem,” La Russa said of Rolen. “So where’s the problem, except that he’s disappointed he’s not playing.”
Rolen is hitting just .244 (10-for-41) with 10 strikeouts in his career against Saturday’s Mets starter, Steve Trachsel (0-0, 5.40 ERA). Spiezio is batting only .143 (1-for-7) lifetime versus him.
Trachsel has had difficulty pitching in St. Louis, going 0-6 with a 6.71 ERA in his last 10 starts there. He also struggled in his first postseason start this year, allowing two runs and six hits in just 3 1-3 innings last Saturday. He did not record a decision as New York defeated the Dodgers 9-5 to clinch the division series.
Despite the rough outing, Mets manager Willie Randolph has confidence in the 35-year-old right-hander, who was tied with Tom Glavine for the team lead with 15 regular-season wins.
“He’s been pretty consistent for us all year—as a matter of fact, one of our most consistent starters,” Randolph said of Trachsel. “Obviously he’s a guy who knows how to pitch, and his veteran presence is very comforting because we have a good offensive ballclub that’s going to keep you in ballgames.”
Carlos Delgado provided much of New York’s offense with two home runs and four RBIs in Game 2. He became the first Met with a multihomer game in the NLCS since Rusty Staub in Game 3 against Cincinnati in 1973.
Delgado, though, is hitting just .207 (6-for-29) in his career against Jeff Suppan (0-1, 6.23), who starts for St. Louis.
Suppan is 3-1 in six career starts against the Mets with a 2.27 ERA—his lowest against any opponent. He lost his only outing against New York this year, though, giving up four runs in 6 2-3 innings of an 8-3 defeat on May 16.
The right-hander is 0-2 in his last three postseason starts for the Cardinals, but has received a total of one run of support in those contests. He did not receive any support in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Padres last Saturday, when he gave up three runs, six hits and walked three over 4 1-3 innings of a 3-1 defeat.
Suppan will be well-rested when he takes the mound. La Russa pushed his start back one day in order to pitch ace Chris Carpenter in Game 2, a move Suppan seemed to take in stride.
“I think you try to keep it as normal as possible,” Suppan said. “I think it doesn’t matter when you’re pitching. As an athlete, as a baseball player, you have to deal with distractions or delays. You prepare the best you can.”
After salvaging a split of two road games, the Cardinals return to where they played their best all season. St. Louis posted a 49-31 mark in its first season at the new Busch Stadium.
However, the Mets went a league-best 47-34 on the road.
Mets left fielder Cliff Floyd did not play Friday after re-injuring his left Achilles’ tendon in Game 1 and leaving after two innings. An ultrasound test revealed no further damage, raising the possibility Floyd could return for the games in St. Louis.
“Just a matter of how comfortable he feels moving around on the leg,” Randolph said. “But right now we’re going to use him as a pinch hitter and, hopefully, as the days go on, day to day, if you will, he’ll feel better and better and we can get him back out there.”