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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Cardinals Pounce On Mets Early for a 5-0 Win

St. Louis capitalizes on Trachsel's shaky start and takes a 2-1 series lead over New York.

October 15, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS — It is often enough of a bracer to travel overnight from Gotham to baseball's little Whoville, where crimson-clad St. Louis Cardinals fans practically join hands and skip into Busch Stadium while humming the Budweiser theme song.

In 24 hours, the National League Championship Series has taken the same startling turn, so that by the time the St. Louis Cardinals strung through the infield grass on Saturday night, pounding each others' backs, they had taken a two-games-to-one lead over the favored New York Mets in the best-of-seven series with a 5-0 victory.

The Cardinals jumped on an ineffective -- and, eventually, bruised -- Steve Trachsel, the Mets starter who is becoming a cult figure in St. Louis. Eight years ago, as a Chicago Cub, he surrendered Mark McGwire's 62nd home run.

Then, given Game 3 with the Mets, he pitched to 12 batters, retired two of them, and was removed shortly after taking a one-hopper off his right leg, just above the knee. He actually got out of the first inning, but picked David Eckstein off first base for one of the outs, then pitched to four batters in the second, none successfully.

The Cardinals scored five runs in the first two innings, one on a home run by their pitcher, Jeff Suppan, who'd hit only one other home run as a major leaguer. It came off of -- you guessed it -- Trachsel. And Scott Spiezio, beginning to relive his 2002 postseason with the Angels, tripled home two first-inning runs, giving him five runs batted in over a span of three at-bats, and driving two Cardinals victories.

Trachsel left seven innings to an already tired Mets bullpen, and although Darren Oliver single-handedly pitched the Mets out of that jam, Suppan allowed only two runners past first base in eight innings. He walked one batter -- Shawn Green to start the eighth -- and required only 99 pitches as the crowd filled the ballpark with long cries of "Soooop!"

"I'm trying to keep my same approach regardless if we had zero runs or five runs," said Suppan, who graduated from Encino Crespi High in 1993. "But what I think what was working was location. I was able to ... hit spots and when I missed, I didn't miss down the middle. You know, that's key."

His home run came on an 0-and-2 pitch from Trachsel, adding to a strange night. For one thing, where the seventh-inning stretch should have been, Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler sang God Bless America while wearing some sort of mink vest. For another, the Mets reached 12 consecutive innings without scoring a run, mind-boggling for a team expected to slug its way to the World Series.

On the plus side, needing to save innings for today's starter -- Oliver Perez, whose earned-run average was around 6.00 in four places this season (Mets, Pirates, Triple-A Norfolk and Triple-A Indianapolis) -- reliever Oliver rewarded them with six zeroes.

"He was outstanding," Mets Manager Willie Randolph said. "Gave us a chance to have everybody fresh, our main guys for [Sunday], a superlative job coming in, giving us a chance to get back in the game."

He then admitted, "We didn't do much to get back in."

The Detroit Tigers settled the American League Championship Series as the NLCS players gathered for introductions on the Busch Stadium foul lines. Game 3 here was decided only a few minutes later.

With two out in the first inning, two runners on and Trachsel already appearing shaky, Spiezio hit a floater toward the right-field line. Green charged and dived, taking the ball on a hop off his right shoulder.

Spiezio said he was looking for a change-up, hit a fastball, and started off around the bases.

"We just knew that we had a good chance with [Suppan] out there," Spiezio said. "He's been so steady for us all year and we just wanted to jump out and get some runs on the board."

They took two into the second inning, which began with Suppan's home run. His season is now symmetrical, having allowed one 0-and-2 home run, and having hit one 0-and-2 home run.

"I swung, it ran into my bat, I don't know why that is," he said.

The ball landed a few inches from left fielder Endy Chavez's glove, on top of the fence, and bounded into the Mets' bullpen. David Eckstein followed with a walk and then Preston Wilson hit the come-backer that caught Trachsel in the leg and bounded into left field. Albert Pujols walked on four pitches, and that was it for Trachsel.

Oliver threw a wild pitch that scored a run and Jim Edmonds had an RBI groundout, giving the Cardinals their 5-0 lead, which stood for seven more innings.

*

tim.brown@latimes.com

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