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Reserve catcher Cruz pushes Cards past Mets

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Tony Cruz may have the easiest job in St. Louis.

As Yadier Molina's backup catcher, Cruz has started exactly two games out of 39 this season, and he's played in only eight. However, when he got his opportunity Wednesday night, he contributed on offense and defense to another Cardinals win.

Knocking home a run and steering rookie Shelby Miller through 5 2/3 scoreless innings without his best fastball or command, Cruz helped St. Louis notch its 12th win in 14 games, a 4-2 decision over the struggling New York Mets.

"I don't get a lot of opportunities to play, so when I get to the plate, I'm just trying to make contact," Cruz said. "I just try to do my work in the cage, and if I need to talk about hitting, we've got veteran guys who are up for it."

Daniel Descalso scored the tiebreaking run in the bottom of the seventh when Scott Rice bounced a 1-0 changeup past catcher John Buck as the Cardinals (26-13) maintained the major league's best record.

Cruz's performance earned plaudits throughout the St. Louis clubhouse.

"Great job all the way around," manager Mike Matheny said of Cruz. "He doesn't get many chances, but he gave us a two-out RBI tonight, and he works very hard. You can't duplicate (game) at-bats, but he fought and figured out a way."

Cruz's single off Shaun Marcum (0-4) with two outs in the fourth scored Jon Jay, who doubled Matt Holliday home with the night's first run. Jay reached third when David Wright dropped the ball after tagging him.

Most important, Cruz coaxed Miller to use more changeups when the rookie's fastball lacked its normal late life. Mixing in more off-speed pitches to keep the Mets off balance, Miller fanned six, allowed six hits and one walk. He left after 96 pitches with a 2-0 lead, having reduced his ERA to a minuscule 1.40.

"It was a battle out there because my fastball command wasn't as good," Miller said. "(Cruz) mixed it up good, kept the hitters off-balance. He called a good game."

Molina pinch-hit for Cruz in the eighth and slapped an RBI single up the middle off reliever LaTroy Hawkins, giving the Cardinals a 4-2 edge. It marked the eighth straight game in which the New York bullpen allowed a run.

Seth Maness (3-0) got the win despite yielding Rick Ankiel's game-tying, two-run homer in the seventh. Edward Mujica worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 11th save in as many chances.

The Mets (14-23) worked the count against Miller, who was coming off a one-hit shutout of Colorado on Friday night in which he retired his last 27 hitters. New York forced him to use 63 pitches to get through three innings. Miller went to four 3-2 counts on the first seven batters, issuing a 12-pitch walk to Buck, and he had 24 pitches fouled off in the first three frames.

However, Buck's poor baserunning cost New York a chance to score first in the top of the second. Standing on second after Ankiel's pop-fly single, Buck broke for third on Ruben Tejada's liner to right-center, but Jay made a routine catch and easily doubled Buck off second.

"I thought it was a good read," Buck said of his baserunning. "(Tejada) hit it harder than I thought. Maybe I was a bit too aggressive."

There were other mistakes that cost the Mets. Buck was caught stealing with Ankiel at the plate and two outs in the fourth, and Daniel Murphy's throwing error in the eighth kept them from turning a double play, giving Molina a chance to knock in the last run.

But the biggest gaffe was Rice's wild pitch, which gave Marcum a loss that spoiled his first quality start of the year. Marcum, who started the game with a puffy ERA of 8.59, permitted just five hits and three runs (two earned) over 6 2/3 innings.

"His location of the fastball was his equalizer tonight," Buck said of Marcum. "We're not fond of losing, but we're trying to grab onto the things we're doing well."

NOTES: St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook, currently on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation, plans to resume throwing Friday. Westbrook, who is 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in seven starts, is eligible to return May 24. ... RHP Matt Harvey is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, the first Met in five years to earn that honor. Harvey's next start is Friday at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. ... Cardinals RHP Chris Carpenter (nerve problem in right shoulder) threw a side session in the bullpen Wednesday and pronounced himself pleased with it. Carpenter plans to throw another bullpen session Saturday and another next week before possibly planning a rehabilitation stint in the minors.
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