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Mets edge Cardinals 3-2 in 'mental grind'

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Had it taken place in late October instead of late April, the New York Mets' 3-2 victory Wednesday night over the St. Louis Cardinals may have gone down as one of the most memorable baseball games ever played.

As it was, nobody involved in the wild and windy affair at Citi Field -- which featured a record strikeout pace by a starting pitcher before he suddenly lost the strike zone, the elements impacting both teams and replay confirming a catcher sweep tagging the potential tying run at the plate in the ninth inning -- is likely to forget it anytime soon.

"My heart's still racing," said Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who completed a perfect relay sequence by tagging Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter for the second out of the ninth.

"Just the whole game was a mental grind," said Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who fielded pinch hitter Daniel Descalso's double and began the relay by firing to shortstop Ruben Tejada.

The Mets were ground up in the first three innings by Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, who recorded his first nine outs via strikeout and allowed only one ball to be hit into play (a first-inning single by slumping right fielder Curtis Granderson).

Wacha walked two in the first three innings but otherwise completely befuddled the Mets. He ended the third inning by striking out third baseman David Wright on four pitches.

Wacha's night came to an unexpected halt after a fourth inning in which the Mets took advantage of his sudden wildness. Wacha allowed two hits and three walks -- including two bases-loaded passes to Tejada and Nieuwenhuis -- as New York took the lead for good.

"It showed a lot of character from this team not getting down about the first three innings," Nieuwenhuis said, "because that was tough."

Nieuwenhuis said the fierce winds (gusting up to 41 mph at first pitch) impacted pitches, but Wacha -- whose hat blew off in the second inning -- said the weather had nothing to do with the loss of his command.

"I felt good the first three innings, for sure," Wacha said. "Then I'm not really sure what happened out there. Just mechanically wasn't where I needed to be."

Wacha (2-2) allowed three hits and set career highs with five walks and 10 strikeouts over the four innings. He became only the fourth starting pitcher in history to strike out 10 batters in four innings or less -- but the third in the last eight months behind Seattle's Felix Hernandez and Cleveland's Danny Salazar.

"We know that he'll get back out there and be the same guy that we have seen for the majority of the time that we've seen him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the 21-year-old Wacha, who has a 2.57 ERA in his first 20 big-league appearances.

Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese allowed just one run on six hits and two walks while striking out three over 6 2/3 innings. A solo homer by first baseman Lucas Duda extended the Mets' lead to 3-1 in the sixth before the Cardinals stranded three runners -- two in scoring position -- in the seventh and eighth.

"You look at these one-run games, that's going to be the difference -- doing the little things, getting runs in when they give (them) to us," Matheny said.

The Cardinals finally broke through in the ninth against right-hander Kyle Farnsworth. After consecutive one-out singles by center fielder Jon Jay and Carpenter (his fourth hit of the night), Descalso crushed a 2-0 pitch to deep center field.

Nieuwenhuis said he thought he would catch it, but the ball kept sailing in the wind and eluded him for a double. Jay scored easily from second and third base coach Jose Oquendo didn't hesitate in waving home Carpenter.

"I thought for sure it was going to be a tie game," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Tejada, who dropped a fourth-inning popup that drifted back in from short left field, had his back to the plate when he caught Nieuwenhuis' throw. He whirled and fired to d'Arnaud, who barely caught the left side of Carpenter's jersey an instant before his foot touched home plate.

"A 180 spin throw like that, a perfect throw -- I still can't believe I witnessed it," d'Arnaud said.

The Cardinals used their first replay challenge of the season but the play was upheld after a short review.

"I saw him in my peripherals, kind of passing me," d'Arnaud said. "So I started tagging him instead of coming wide. And fortunately I got him before he touched the plate."

Matheny said he agreed with the call upon watching it in the locker room.

"It takes a perfectly executed cutoff and relay," Matheny said. "And they did it."

A few minutes later and a few hundred feet down the hall, d'Arnaud gazed at a television and watched the replay several times.

"It was fun," d'Arnaud said. "A lot of fun."

NOTES: Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright said he felt fine Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he suffered a hyperextended right knee while trying to field the final out of the seventh inning of the Cardinals' 3-0 win. Wainwright went through his usual day-after-start routine and said he was just "a hair sore" when he fully extended his right leg. He expects to make his next start as scheduled on Sunday against Pittsburgh. ... RHP Michael Wacha had nine strikeouts in just one of his first 13 career starts for the Cardinals. He whiffed nine when he threw 8 2/3 no-hit innings against Washington last Sept. 24. ... A scoring change by Major League Baseball took a hit away from Mets 2B Daniel Murphy. The single he was credited with against the Braves on Saturday has been ruled an error on Atlanta 2B Dan Uggla. ... Mets RF Curtis Granderson broke an 0-for-22 stretch with his first-inning single. His previous career-long hitless streak was an 0-for-21 drought with the Tigers in 2006.
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