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10/14/06 2:47 AM ET

Wagner plans to shake off rough outing

Mets closer gives up three runs in ninth in Game 2 setback

NEW YORK -- Prior to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, Mets closer Billy Wagner had given up one run in four innings and saved three games this postseason. Still, he didn't feel like he was in a good groove on the mound. He felt lucky because his teammates made great plays behind him.

Wagner's luck ran out on Friday night.

So Taguchi led off the ninth with a tiebreaking home run off Wagner and the Cardinals scored twice more on the way to a 9-6 come-from-behind win, knotting the NLCS at a game apiece.

Taguchi, who entered the game as a defensive replacement an inning earlier, hit only two home runs all year. The reserve outfielder seemed the least likely Cardinal to pull off any late-inning drama against the Mets' flame-throwing closer.

Still, St. Louis manager Tony La Russa was not surprised.

"Well, one of So's qualities is he really plays well late in the game," La Russa said. "Ever since he first got here, September -- I don't even remember the year now; 2001, 2002, whatever it was -- in September, he got a couple big hits."

It ended up being a nine-pitch battle between Wagner and Taguchi. Wagner quickly got ahead 0-2, but after six pitches, the count was full. Taguchi then fouled off two more pitches. But on the ninth offering, Wagner threw a fastball over the middle of the plate and the 160-pound Taguchi connected.

"He gave me a good battle," said Wagner. "Once he got me to 3-2, I was really trying to get the ball up and get him to pop it up. He got the head out. He's a good fastball hitter. I know that. He won the battle.

"It was up like I wanted, but it kind of ran back over the plate. I've thrown that pitch many times. Tonight, it just didn't work out."

Wagner found himself with serious problems after that. Albert Pujols followed with a double, and after Jim Edmonds grounded out, Scott Spiezio doubled near the right-field line to score Pujols and make it an 8-6 game.

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Juan Encarnacion was next and singled to right to send Spiezio home for the ninth and final run of the game.

Wagner managed to get Ronnie Belliard to ground out for the second out of the inning before manager Willie Randolph called on Roberto Hernandez to finish up.

"Everything I threw, they hit," said Wagner. "You are going to have those days. I can't explain it. I felt good. They hit a few balls that I thought were decent pitches, but they found holes."

The Mets travel to St. Louis to play Game 3 of the NLCS on Saturday, and Wagner knows there is no time to lament.

"I played 10 years and blew 50 saves," Wagner said. "But I was able to get 324 of them. That's pretty much how you [get over it]."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.