10/20/06 1:37 AM ET
Perez comes up big, but bats fall short
Lefty turns in stellar outing, but quiet offense means downfall
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"It's difficult," Beltran said. "But that's life. We've got to live with the good moments and bad moments. This was one of the bad ones I'll remember forever."Molina's two-run homer on an Aaron Heilman hanging changeup in the top of the ninth was the difference after Wainwright, a closer for about a month in the absence of the injured Jason Isringhausen, got in trouble and escaped with a dramatic flourish. "I battled through a tough at-bat with Rolen," Heilman said, "and, unfortunately, I left a pitch up, and [Molina] was able to get a pretty good piece of it and put it where Endy couldn't catch it this time." The Cards made it to the ninth even at 1 because Suppan pitched seven brilliant innings, matched by Perez's six excellent innings and one otherworldly catch by Chavez. "I thought of [Brooklyn's] Sandy Amoros in the 1955 World Series," said Minaya, recalling the catch and double play that made a champion of the Dodgers at the expense of Yogi Berra and the Yankees. Chavez's spectacular stab also resulted in a double play, when Valentin's relay from shallow left easily nailed Edmonds at first. "That was incredible," said Perez, who hugged Chavez in the dugout as if he didn't want to let go. "I felt good that I had a strong finish to the season and kept the team in the game, but it's a sad end to the season." The Mets had a golden opportunity to break it open in the bottom half of the inning after Rolen's two-base throwing error put runners on second and third, and an intentional walk created a bases-loaded predicament with one out. But Suppan struck out Valentin on a nasty curveball and retired Chavez on a fly ball to center. "I've never seen a catch like that," Beltran said. "After that catch, you expect to score a run. But Suppan was tough. He kept everybody off balance." Suppan, who gave up five hits and one run in 15 NLCS innings, departed after walking Beltran leading off the eighth. Left-handed reliever Randy Flores, in the brand of relief that characterized La Russa's bullpen, struck out Carlos Delgado and David Wright and retired Shawn Green on a ground ball. Flores was credited with the win when Rolen stroked a one-out single in the ninth against Heilman -- who'd struck out two men in a scoreless eighth -- and Molina unloaded to numb a Shea sellout numbering 56,357. Showing their characteristic resilience, the Mets didn't go quietly in the ninth against Wainwright and his dominant stuff. Valentin dropped a full-count single into shallow right-center, and Chavez banged a single to left. Floyd, on his ailing left Achilles tendon, took several big cuts before looking at a third strike. Reyes, the Game 6 hero with a homer among three hits, sent a 1-2 rocket to center that had fans rising hopefully until it landed in Edmonds' gold glove. "I really thought it had a shot [of going through] when I hit it," Reyes said. "I put my best swing on it and hit it hard. It was so close. Sometimes luck isn't with you." This brought up Beltran, with his 41 regular-season homers and three in this series, with his 116 regular-season RBIs and four in the series. Perez, whose Game 4 effort in St. Louis revived the Mets, left for Chad Bradford to start the seventh, having limited the Cards to a run on four hits, two walks and a hit batsman in six exceptional innings. Perez and Suppan both had some bad luck in surrendering early runs. Beltran checked his swing on an 0-2 pitch before lining a double past third with two outs in the first. After a full-count walk by Delgado, Wright flared a Suppan delivery over first into shallow right, and it fell for an RBI single. Suppan then retired Green on a liner to third. The Mets didn't get another hit until the ninth. Perez, who recovered from Delgado's two-base error on Albert Pujols' popup to get out of the first, yielded a leadoff single to Edmonds in the second and a one-out single by Molina blooped into left, sending Edmonds to third. Ronnie Belliard pushed a bunt between the mound and first base to score Edmonds, and Perez struck out Suppan to close the inning. Pumping high heat in the mid-90s, Perez blew away Preston Wilson after David Eckstein's leadoff double in the third. Pujols was walked intentionally, leaving it to cleanup man Juan Encarnacion, who grounded to third for an inning-ending double play. Wilson, whose stepfather is former Mets star Mookie Wilson, had another chance to break the Mets' hearts in the fifth -- and struck out again on high heat with two on and one out. Up stepped Pujols, who lifted a lazy popup that Reyes handled in shallow left as the crowd roared its approval. That roar was nothing compared to the one Chavez provided in the sixth with his sensational play. But all the noise died in sorrow in Queens when Wainwright threw a third strike past Beltran, and the Cardinals celebrated in the middle of Shea Stadium.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.