Bullpen stands up to close out win
Randolph's moves pay off as relievers deliver big pitches
NEW YORK -- In the seventh inning, the bullpen phone rang.
Mets manager Willie Randolph was on the line, and he instructed bullpen coach Guy Conti to have Pedro Feliciano and Guillermo Mota warm up.
Reliever Chad Bradford had just allowed a leadoff single to Ronnie Belliard, and Randolph knew he'd go to either Feliciano or Mota following Bradford's next batter, no matter what happened.
Bradford forced St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina into a flyout and, after Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa had the left-handed-hitting Chris Duncan enter the game as a pinch-hitter for starting pitching Chris Carpenter, the bullpen phone rang again.
"Yeah, I was surprised, but Willie told us at the beginning of the series to be ready for anything," Mota said after the Mets' 4-2 win over the Cardinals on Wednesday that evened the NLCS and brought them to within one win of the World Series. "And that's what I had to do. Not think about it, just go out there and go with my best."
Duncan had homered in a pinch-hit situation against Feliciano in Game 5 on Tuesday, in the Cardinals' 4-2 victory, but that played no part in having Mota enter the game.
"No, he told me to be ready to go in if a runner got on, or on the next out," said Feliciano.
And while Duncan had batted .318 against right-handers and .170 vs. lefties during the regular season, Randolph was confident in what Mota brought to the table.
"Our bullpen's been big for us all year, and I felt good with Mota going out there," said Randolph.
And Mota delivered.
After a first-pitch ball, Mota tossed two straight changeups for strikes. Then, he tossed one more changeup, which Duncan grounded to second baseman Jose Valentin, who turned a double play to shortstop Jose Reyes and first baseman Carlos Delgado.
"[Catcher Paul Lo Duca] knew what to throw, and we had a plan," said Mota. "And it worked."
Much like it had during the regular season, when the bullpen finished first in the National League in ERA and opponents' batting average.
The Mets relievers have battled the Cardinals' bullpen for respect and results throughout this hard-fought NLCS.
While the Cards' relief corps had garnered the attention with its play, allowing 11 runs (10 earned) in 28 2/3 innings heading into Wednesday's game, the Mets' bullpen had fared nearly as well, with 14 runs in 34 2/3 innings.
On Wednesday, though, besides Billy Wagner's flare-up in the ninth, in which he gave up two runs, the Mets' bullpen held strong while former Met Braden Looper imploded.
"That's a big boost," said Shawn Green, who had an RBI single in the fourth to give the Mets a 2-0 lead. "When you have your guys go out there and shut them down, and we can respond like that, it's big."
Bradford demonstrated the bullpen's importance an inning before Mota relieved him.
Mets rookie starter John Maine walked Jim Edmonds to start the sixth, and then induced Juan Encarnacion into a flyout. With Maine's pitch count at 98, Randolph signaled for Bradford.
The Mets' submariner entered the game and, on a 3-2 count, forced Scott Rolen into a double play to end the inning.
"That's huge, huge," said David Wright. "In the playoffs, it's amplified. It's the countdown from 27 outs. And to be able to get two at a time in a tough situation like that, it's huge.
"It just brought all the momentum that was left on our side even more so. And there's nothing worse than sitting over there on the offensive side and have two outs like that happen so quick -- it's demoralizing. So, it was huge."
Immediately after Mota's effort in the seventh, the Mets plated two more runs to boost the lead to 4-0, which played a major role since the Cardinals scored two runs off Wagner in the ninth.
"What we're trying to do as a whole and individually is go out there and each get the job done," said Aaron Heilman, who pitched a scoreless inning in the eighth. "However we match up, that's how we approach it. And when we're called upon, we know we have to go out there and do our best."
And now that the Mets have forced a Game 7, with Oliver Perez making his second start of the postseason, another effort like Wednesday night seems imperative.
"We're prepared," said Heilman. "Whatever they need from us, we're ready to handle it."
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.