- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

ST. LOUIS — Lambasted for 48 frustrating hours by the New York press for their lack of quality pitching, the Mets last night turned to the one thing they have been able to count on all season.

Offense. And lots of it.

With a barrage of home runs and other assorted clutch hits, the Mets trounced the St. Louis Cardinals 12-5 to even the National League Championship Series at 2-2. More importantly, they made an emphatic statement to their detractors that they are far from dead and will at least bring this series back to Queens.

“You’re not going to hold us down too often,” manager Willie Randolph said. “We’ve been too consistent all season.”

It was easy to believe otherwise when New York’s much-maligned pitching staff was battered around by the Cardinals during back-to-back losses, leaving St. Louis two wins from a World Series date with the Detroit Tigers.

But the Mets didn’t get to this point on their pitchers’ backs. They got here behind the NL’s deepest and most-feared lineup, a point they drove home last night. Repeatedly.

New York established a new franchise postseason record with 12 runs and hit four homers to silence a sellout crowd of 46,600 at Busch Stadium. All four came from the heart of the lineup (Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and David Wright).

Beltran clubbed a pair of longballs to continue his torrid attack on the Cardinals. In 11 career NLCS games against manager Tony La Russa’s squad, the All-Star center fielder has hit seven homers. The only other man to hit as many postseason bombs against this storied franchise? Babe Ruth.

“We just didn’t make good pitches to him … and to a bunch of the other guys,” La Russa said. “He’s a dangerous guy. We made mistakes, and he’s a great hitter and takes advantage.”

And Beltran wasn’t even the Mets’ most-productive hitter last night. That honor went to Delgado, who launched a three-run homer off reliever Brad Thompson in the fifth and then added a two-run double off Josh Hancock an inning later.

Delgado’s five RBI (a Mets single-game postseason record) further solidified his torrid series. He’s now 6-for-15 (.400) with three homers, nine RBI, six extra-base hits and a spectacular 1.200 slugging percentage.

“He’s been, for a long time, one of the best hitters in the game,” Randolph said of the 14-year veteran, who’s in the playoffs for the first time. “I’m just glad the world, the country, can see him on a stage like this.”

The bulk of New York’s offensive barrage last night came against the Cardinals’ bullpen, an underrated unit that had been pitching brilliantly this month. Not in this one. The quintet of Thompson, Hancock, Randy Flores, Tyler Johnson and Braden Looper surrendered 10 runs (nine earned) in five combined innings.

Just like that, the Cardinals’ bullpen ERA this postseason skyrocketed from 0.44 to 3.51.

La Russa needed better than that on a night that featured a pair of struggling starters and figured to come down to a battle of bullpens.

It was billed as one of the weaker pitching matchups in recent playoff history, and it lived up (er, down) to its reputation. Neither Mets left-hander Oliver Perez nor Cardinals right-hander Anthony Reyes was especially effective, though it should be noted neither was particularly wretched.

Perez, of course, faced the tougher challenge because his team desperately needed to win this game. So New York manager Willie Randolph entrusted the ball to the 25-year-old lefty with the 3-13 record, only the second starting pitcher in postseason history to be 10 games under .500 (joining Arizona’s Albie Lopez, who was 9-19 in 2001).

Perez may be the poster child for the Mets’ pitching woes, but he’s not totally unaccomplished. Only two years ago, he posted a 2.98 ERA with 239 strikeouts for the Pittsburgh Pirates. So he has the ability to dominate.

He also has the ability to be wildly erratic, and both sides were on display last night. One moment, he was serving up a home run to light-hitting shortstop David Eckstein. The next, he was blowing away feared slugger Albert Pujols with a back-breaking curveball and a chin-high, 95 mph fastball.

Ultimately, Perez had a few more good moments last night than bad ones, departing after 52/3 innings having allowed five runs. If nothing else, that allowed the Mets to take advantage of the Cardinals’ own pitching problems.

Like his opponent, Reyes was erratic in the first postseason outing of his career. He served up two solo homers in the third to Beltran and Wright, walked four in four innings and at one point began working exclusively out of the stretch because the Cardinals were worried he was tipping his pitches when he used a full windup.

Reyes, though, allowed only two runs while he was on the mound. He departed before the fifth, the game still tied at 2-2.

“We weren’t going to push him much past that,” La Russa said.

If only the Cardinals knew how their bullpen would uncharacteristically implode and, in the process, give the Mets renewed life.

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