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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS / NATIONAL LEAGUE

Cardinals Get Out of the Red

National League: Two-run first inning sends St. Louis on the way to 8-2 road victory and helps cut Mets' series lead to 2-1.

October 15, 2000|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Home-field advantage, what's that?

Taking a page from the New York Mets' playbook, the visiting St. Louis Cardinals jumped on the home team with a pair of first-inning runs and never looked back Saturday. The Cardinals' 8-2 victory over the Mets in front of 55,693 at Shea Stadium was their first in the National League championship series and marked the third consecutive game that the visiting team was victorious.

The Mets, who came into the game thinking sweep, maintain a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"I think it was very important to us," St. Louis Manager Tony La Russa said of scoring early. "I mean, I don't think it did a whole lot to [the Mets] because they're going to play a good nine. I think it did a lot for us, but we were looking at more than two.

"But getting off to a start, scoring in the top of the first, that gave us a lift."

St. Louis starter Andy Benes made it last.

Benes, making his first appearance since Oct. 1, was especially impressive in shutting down New York and calming a frenzied crowd. He earned the win after going eight strong innings and giving up two runs on six hits. Benes, who has his right knee drained after every outing and will undergo off-season surgery for torn cartilage, struck out four and walked three.

"Well, they scored early in the games against us [in St. Louis]," Benes said. "It was nice to break out on top early. . . . That's comforting to know that you'll have at least a few runs to work with. We scored more than I thought we would score, but you can never underestimate our offense; they've been great all year.

"It was nice to keep the crowd out of the game, because these people here, they love it."

Met starter Rick Reed was tagged with the loss after giving up five runs, four earned, and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. He struck out four and walked one.

While St. Louis scored twice in the first inning, the Cardinals missed a golden opportunity for more with the two-run lead, none out and runners on first and third.

Jim Edmonds, who had doubled down the left-field line to score Fernando Vina and Edgar Renteria, was not waved around third on Will Clark's single to right field. Clark was the fourth Cardinal in a row to reach base safely to start the game.

Holding Edmonds at third and not testing Timo Perez's arm in right seemed like the safe thing for third-base coach Jose Oquendo to do, what with runners at the corners and none out.

But Reed struck out the next three St. Louis batters --Ray Lankford looking, Fernando Tatis swinging, J.D. Drew looking--to escape further first-inning damage. It was the third consecutive NLCS game that the visiting team had scored two runs in the top of the first inning.

The Mets' two runs, meanwhile, came on rally-killing double-play ground balls.

In the first, Perez scored when Mike Piazza bounced into a 5-4-3 double play and in the fourth, Robin Ventura came home when Jay Payton grounded into a 4-3 double play.

"[Benes] threw really good pitches when he had to," Met Manager Bobby Valentine said. "The time we had them on the ropes, we couldn't put them away. He was hitting corners, off-speed pitches when he was behind in the count. He worked his fastball on both sides of the plate."

St. Louis padded its lead with two runs in the third and went for the kill in the fourth.

Having already scored once in the inning, when Renteria singled in a lumbering Benes, who made like an albatross with his head-first slide into the plate, the Cardinals chased Reed and loaded the bases when reliever Glendon Rusch hit Clark with a pitch.

Mark McGwire, still hobbled by a gimpy right knee, stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter for Lankford as a hush came over the crowd.

The left-handed Rusch, however, induced the single-season home run king to loft a harmless fly ball to left field, ending the drama.

An inning later, though, the Cardinals put the finishing touches on the Mets with a three-run fifth.

"We went out there and put up that two-spot [in the first inning] and kept the pressure on them the rest of the game," said Clark, who went three for four to raise his series average to .500. "You get a few base hits and all of a sudden it's a six-run game."

The Cardinals, who entered the game having stranded 19 runners and were three for 27 with runners in scoring position, are trying to become the first team in NLCS history to lose the first two games of the series at home and advance to the World Series. And while every starting Cardinal position player had at least one hit--St. Louis banged out 12--none came after the fifth inning.

"If you go out there and take every at-bat like it's your last, good things will happen," Lankford said. "That's what we did today."

Said Piazza, who was one for four: "We knew this wasn't going to be easy. We got beat tonight and it's frustrating. Guys go up there and try to do too much. But we knew it was far from over."

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