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Cardinal and Golden

Suppan comes up with his second strong start of the series, and Molina's two-run homer in the ninth puts Cardinals in the World Series.

October 20, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Given a few more innings to correct the work of seven months, and then to justify what they thought of themselves, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to Jeff Suppan.

It had worked before, circumstance and necessity held in his right arm, a place in the World Series his to deliver, or not. Suppan does not think that large, not even standing later amid sprays of celebration, teammates hopping in circles, the New York Mets behind them all.

Suppan pitched into the eighth inning Thursday night at Shea Stadium, his catcher, Yadier Molina homered dramatically in the ninth inning, and the Cardinals defeated the Mets, 3-1. Suppan was the series MVP.

The World Series -- Cardinals at Detroit Tigers -- opens Saturday night at Comerica Park.

"I tried to focus on every pitch," Suppan said. "That's what I did. That's what I do. When you're going from pitch to pitch, really what else is there to think about?"

Two years ago in St. Louis, Suppan beat the Houston Astros in another Game 7, in another World Series year.

He is, over his career, barely better than an average pitcher. He is, in three seasons with the Cardinals, much better than that. And he has delivered them to late October again, giving up one run and five hits in 15 innings over two starts to the powerful Mets, 97-game winners in the regular season and, now, television watchers.

"Obviously, it's a big stage," he said. "But I try to just really bear down on what I have to do. The key for me is to control what I can control. Usually, I'm able to make my pitches."

After six games that lurched along through the frailties of understudy pitchers and sporadic hitting, the Mets and Cardinals arrived tied at three games apiece to a damp but warm night in Queens.

As midnight approached, and moments after Molina's two-run home run off an Aaron Heilman changeup, the Mets loaded the bases in the ninth inning against closer stand-in Adam Wainwright. But, Carlos Beltran, the Mets' MVP candidate, allowed the season to pass with the bat on his shoulder. Wainwright spun a curveball over the plate that brought a flinch from Beltran but not a swing.

"My mind is still racing so fast," Wainwright said later. "This has got to be one of the best baseball games of all time."

The Cardinals, whose season appeared to die in the final weeks of September, gathered beyond the mound, shouting and hugging. The Mets, unchallenged in the regular season as the National League's premier team, dropped their heads.

"It stings right now," Mets Manager Willie Randolph said.

Game 7 was, at last, a game that lived up to the expectations of a championship series, and for a time it appeared the Mets -- and their left fielder, Endy Chavez -- had provided its signature moment.

It was the sixth inning. The score had been tied, 1-1, since the second. Left-hander Oliver Perez, the Mets' starter who had appeared unqualified for the assignment, had been as brilliant as Suppan. Scott Rolen, the Cardinals' third baseman who was again on a postseason fade, had a runner at first base and a fastball near the middle of the plate.

Randolph had stayed with Perez at a time that screamed for a right-handed pitcher. The ball rifled from Rolen's bat.

Chavez ran toward the fence, took four steps diagonally across the warning track and, from his right leg, launched himself into the heart of New York baseball.

Jim Edmonds ran away from first base, which Rolen neared.

Rolen had hit a home run.

Chavez took it back.

In a 1-1 game that would fill the World Series bracket, Chavez arrived at the baseball at a full gallop. His arm, just above the elbow, struck the top of the fence. Rolen's home run landed in the pocket, an out.

Then, two.

Edmonds was doubled off first base, Chavez to Jose Reyes to Carlos Delgado. There would be two curtain calls. A hug from his pitcher.

And there would be one long sigh.

Perez thrust his arms in the air. The Mets, unable to rally against Suppan, were still in the game. The momentum carried them to load the bases in the bottom of the sixth on two walks and an error, but Suppan struck out Jose Valentin and had Chavez fly to center to end the inning.

"That," Manager Tony La Russa said, "was probably the moment. The crowd is flying. Their team is flying high. But Supe, he's got a real good consistent approach."

Behind Perez and reliever Chad Bradford, Heilman pitched a scoreless eighth, then struck out Edmonds to start the ninth. Rolen then singled and Molina laid into a first-pitch changeup.

"I was very happy," Molina said. "Too happy. We had battled all game long."

Shea Stadium was at a raw, white-towel-waving, full-volume, only-in-New-York frenzy before the first pitch.

There hadn't been a Game 7 here, in this ballpark, since the 1986 World Series. That one, they won. This one belonged to the Cardinals.

"You don't have a good year unless you go to the World Series," Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said, speaking for both teams.

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