NEW YORK (AP)—So Taguchi laughed, and it felt so good.
“I can’t explain. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Who expected that I would hit a home run? Maybe nobody. Even me.”
No power threat during the regular season, Taguchi is a playoff slugger now — and St. Louis is heading to Busch Stadium tied with the New York Mets in the NL championship series.
After Scott Spiezio saved the Cardinals in the seventh with a two-run triple that was nearly a home run, Taguchi hit a tiebreaking homer off closer Billy Wagner leading off a three-run ninth inning that lifted St. Louis to a 9-6 victory over New York on Friday night.
NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter faltered, allowing a pair of go-ahead home runs to Carlos Delgado that drove in four runs. But the Cardinals tied the game after trailing 3-0 and 4-2, then came back again after falling behind 6-4.
“This may have been the best comeback on a club I’ve been around,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
During the regular season, the 37-year-old Taguchi homered just twice in 316 at-bats this year. But the Japanese player is 2-for-2 with a pair of homers in the postseason, also connecting off San Diego’s Scott Linebrink in Game 3 of the first round.
“He plays well late,” La Russa said. “He’s not intimated at all by pressure situations.”
Taguchi had entered as a defensive replacement in left in the eighth after La Russa saw Wagner warming up.
“Right now?” he asked La Russa. “He said, `Yes.”’
Wagner entered with the score 6-all in the ninth. Taguchi, 0-for-5 against him in his career, fell behind in the count 0-2, fouled off a pitch, took three balls, fouled off two more and then drove a fastball from the hard-throwing Wagner over the left-field wall.
“He’s got a flair for the dramatic,” Spiezio said.
Spiezio added an RBI double and scored on Juan Encarnacion’s run-scoring single off Wagner, who had earned the save in New York’s opening 2-0 win Thursday night but was booed when he walked back to the dugout after being removed with two outs.
“I just did not pitch up to standards,” Wagner said.
New York, which had won eight straight dating to the regular season, threw 200 pitches—and St. Louis batters fouled off 55 of them.
“We made some bad pitches at the wrong times,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
Spiezio, playing because slumping All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen was benched with a sore shoulder, nearly had a home run in the seventh—but right fielder Shawn Green got his glove above the wall, and the ball ricocheted off the thumb, then hit the top of the fence and bounced back onto the field.
“I felt like I had a shot, and obviously I did because it hit the glove,” Green said. “It just didn’t work out, unfortunately.”
Right field umpire Tim Welke got the initial call right and, after La Russa came onto the field, the umpires huddled and upheld the decision, which replays confirmed.
“I felt I had the call correct the entire way,” Welke said in a statement. “The entire crew was in agreement from their respective vantage points.”
Yadier Molina had a two-run double in the second and Jim Edmonds hit a two-run homer in the third for St. Louis, and Josh Kinney got the win by pitching a scoreless eighth—getting Carlos Beltran to ground into an inning-ending double play with two runners on base.
Carlos Delgado drove in four runs with a three-run homer and a solo shot off Carpenter, but John Maine lasted just four innings and while he gave up two hits, each drove in two runs. He walked five and threw 88 pitches—one fewer more than Tom Glavine needed to get through seven shutout innings the night before.
“It was a lost opportunity,” the Mets’ David Wright said.
Carpenter had trouble controlling his curveball and struggled with plate umpire Jim Joyce’s tight strike zone, allowing five runs, six hits and four walks in five innings.
“It was crazy,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t do the job I wanted to do.”
Because of Wednesday’s rainout, there is not a travel day. When the series shifts Saturday night to the new Busch Stadium, Steve Traschel (15-8) pitches for the Mets against Jeff Suppan (12-7).
It was 54 degrees at gametime, down 13 from the opener. Shortstop Jose Reyes wore a black ski cap with a Mets logo during batting practice, and some of the umpires wore gloves during the game.
New York broke on top quickly. Reyes doubled leading off, Beltran walked with one out and Delgado hit a 440-foot, opposite-field drive into the left-center field bleachers for a 3-0 lead.
But Delgado made a key error in the second. Edmonds walked leading off and Spiezio hit a grounder down the first-base line that should have been one out and possibly two. The ball glanced off Delgado’s glove for an error that put runners on second and third, and Encarnacion followed with a walk that loaded the bases. Maine got Ronnie Belliard to hit an infield popup, but Molina hit an opposite-field double to right, closing the Cardinals to 3-2.
Endy Chavez, Floyd’s replacement, was 0-for-11 against Carpenter coming in but doubled to right leading off the bottom half and scored on Reyes’ single for a 4-2 lead. That was the last hit Carpenter allowed until Delgado’s second homer.
Albert Pujols ended an 0-for-12 slide with a two-out single in the seventh off Mota. Pujols singled, doubled and walked, scoring three runs.
“We’ve had much bigger challenges than this and we always respond,” Randolph said. “We’ve responded all year. I don’t think we’re going to change now.”
The only other multihomer game for the Mets in the NLCS was by Rusty Staub in Game 3 in 1973 against Cincinnati. … The Mets were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 2-for-15 in the series.
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