A potentially productive first inning that would have given ace Chris Carpenter a lead to work with ended with a fat zero, the numeral the Cardinals would continue to put up until a ninth-inning rally against Billy Wagner that fell short.
The Cardinals had Mets rookie John Maine on the ropes in the first inning. Serving as jabs were one-out singles by Scott Spiezio and Albert Pujols that quieted the Shea Stadium throng of 56,334. When it came to the knockout punch, however, Maine delivered it.
The right-hander struck out Jim Edmonds on three pitches. Then, after hitting Juan Encarnacion with a pitch that loaded the bases, Maine retired Scott Rolen on a fly to right. The Cardinals didn't get another hit until the seventh inning. Rolen and pinch-hitter Chris Duncan grounded into inning-ending double plays in the sixth and seventh, and So Taguchi's two-run double off Wagner in the ninth was the Cardinals' only hit in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"The first inning was big," Edmonds said. "My at-bat was huge. I didn't come through. We got a chance to score early, and we didn't do it. We let [Maine] off the hook. We needed to capitalize there. The pitcher did a great job. He kept us off base after that and made great pitches."
"One of the keys was dodging that bullet in the first inning," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "[Maine] faced a big problem and he got out of it, and it seemed like after the early part of the game, as he got more confident, he pitched better and better."
The Mets did what the Cardinals couldn't, getting their starter a first-inning lead as Jose Reyes led off with his first postseason home run.
"When you get a chance like that, [with runners on] second and third, and you don't [score] and you've got a young, talented guy that maybe can create a little doubt that you can take advantage of, I think [Maine] gained some confidence and he got better and better," La Russa said. "When we're good, we're an execution club. So we've got to get at least one there. We missed a chance to get something on the board."
"We didn't do our job, especially in the first inning," Pujols said. "We had a chance right there to break the game open. When you have your ace [Carpenter] out there, you've got to get him some runs, and you're in good position to win. I chased some bad pitches and didn't get it done."
As the cleanup hitter behind Pujols, Edmonds is essential to the Cardinals' offense. The Mets showed in the third inning that they were not going to let Pujols beat them. They walked him intentionally with one out and a runner on second, then went after Edmonds, who flied out, and Encarnacion, who struck out.
"You can't discredit the job he did," Rolen said of Maine. "I felt comfortable at the plate, but I didn't get anything done. He pitched on top of the strike zone all night and had good velocity."
In Game 7, the Cardinals will also have to deal with a season-long problem against left-handed pitching. Oliver Perez, the Game 4 winner, will start for the Mets. The Cardinals were 23-34 against lefties during the regular season and have lost twice to lefties in this series, with Tom Glavine winning Game 1.
"We didn't want to have to play it, but we need to win Game 7 to go to the World Series," Pujols said. "One team gets to go to Detroit, and one team has to go home. We're not ready to go home yet."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.