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10/16/06 2:08 AM ET

In pressure situation, Perez delivers

Lefty keeps Cardinals at bay until Mets' offense takes over

ST. LOUIS -- The night before he was to pitch the most important baseball game of his life, Oliver Perez stood alone at his locker in a Mets clubhouse engulfed with media.

The lone player showing his face for the longest time in the wake of a dismal 5-0 Game 3 setback that had the Mets trailing the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series, Perez patiently tried to answer a variety of questions all routed toward one general destination:

How could someone with his record, his background, his inexperience, possibly handle such monumental pressure in Game 4?

What Perez kept saying, over and over, was that he understood the responsibility and accepted the challenge, that he'd try to keep the Mets in the game with everything he had. That's all any starting pitcher can do, and it's all Oliver Perez intended to do against the Cardinals on Sunday night.

Consider it mission accomplished.

His stat line -- nine hits, five runs, 5 2/3 innings -- does no justice to the performance Perez delivered in front of 46,600 fans and a primetime TV audience.

He braved one disturbance after another to keep the Cardinals within reach of a Mets offense that finally came bursting to life, lifted by the power of Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and David Wright in the heart of that lethal order.

"I did what I needed to do," a visibly relieved Perez said after the Mets' 12-5 victory tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. "Most important, I kept us in the game. I feel good about that. I gave us a chance to win.

"Everybody did a good job -- defensive, offense and bullpen. Everybody did their job. It was an important game, and now we're even in the series."

If he neglected to mention that the starting pitcher also did a good job, that's probably because this 25-year-old gentleman from Culiacan, Mexico, is not the self-promoting type.

Let Tom Glavine, eminently willing and able, handle the role of praising Perez.

"I'm happy for him and proud for him," Glavine, the Mets' ace and Game 5 starter on Monday, said. "He did a great job. He hasn't pitched in two weeks. To go out there in these circumstances is not an easy task -- especially for a young kid in his first [postseason] start.

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"There was pressure, anxiety for him -- I know he was aware of it all. He kept us in the game early, which was important. He kept us in the game until we got our offense going. The most important thing was to get us through the early part of the game with the opportunity to get the lead. You can't ask more from him."

Perez got a double-play grounder from Juan Encarnacion to escape the first with two on and one out. Yadier Molina's RBI single in the second had the Cards in front, but left fielder Endy Chavez threw out Ronnie Belliard trying to take an extra base, and again Perez got out of trouble.

Encarnacion's two-out RBI triple in the third tied the game at 2, but Perez hung in to get through the fourth, leaving Belliard at second. In the fifth, after David Eckstein's homer cut the deficit to 5-3, Perez struck out Scott Spiezio and the great Albert Pujols in succession.

Oliver's father and brothers, somewhere in the crowd, must have loved that.

"Everybody gave me great encouragement before the game," Perez said. "They all said, 'Oliver, you can do the job.' I appreciated all the support.

"I did a good job with Pujols, and I feel really good about that." Pujols was hitless in four at-bats.

Perez came to New York with reliever Roberto Hernandez from Pittsburgh at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in exchange for Xavier Nady, the idea being to bolster the bullpen and have another starting option with Perez.

Blessed with a live arm but inconsistent control, Perez was 1-3 with a 6.38 ERA, making seven starts. He'd been 2-10 in Pittsburgh, so it was understandable that a 3-13 ledger going into a huge assignment didn't exactly encourage overconfidence among Mets fans.

But manager Willie Randolph's optimism was justified. The manager, impressed with Perez's heart and composure, kept him on the mound until solo homers by Jim Edmonds and Molina in the sixth convinced him it was time for reinforcements.

"He did show me a lot," Randolph said. "He [bore] down; he didn't really bend. I remember saying to my coaches that he got out of an inning nicely, and didn't panic. It was nice to see him keep his wits about him and not overreact, not get away from himself.

"That's the thing he's improved on since he's been here. He's been able to keep his emotions intact and channel his energy."

Oliver Perez did what he set out to do. He kept his team in the game, and his teammates showed him how much they appreciated that by ripping baseballs all over Busch Stadium and making the NLCS a three-game series now, two of those at Shea Stadium, if a Game 7 is required.

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