Jeff Suppan just about did it all for St. Louis, hitting a rare home run and pitching a tidy masterpiece that gave the Cardinals control of the NL championship series against the suddenly staggering New York Mets.
Scott Spiezio smacked another big triple and St. Louis dazzled on defense, dominating the Mets for a 5-0 victory Saturday night and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
New York lost yet another pitcher to injury when an ineffective Steve Trachsel was clocked by Preston Wilson's comebacker. On offense, the Mets' normally imposing lineup hardly threatened against Suppan, who allowed three hits in eight crisp innings and homered against Trachsel for the second time in two years.
"They say I don't smile in the dugout. I was smiling there, man," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "I thought we got a one-run gift."
During batting practice, the video scoreboards at new Busch Stadium billed Game 3 as "Gotham vs Gateway."
"No contest" would have been much more appropriate.
With a sea of red-clad Cardinals fans twirling their colorful towels, St. Louis moved within two wins of a trip to the World Series to face the Detroit Tigers, who polished off a four-game sweep of Oakland in the ALCS earlier Saturday.
Only 24 hours earlier, the Mets were in great shape. After tagging Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, New York led Game 2 by two runs with two outs and none on in the seventh inning.
But the Mets' vaunted bullpen faltered, St. Louis rallied back, and the Cardinals grabbed all the momentum with a 9-6 victory.
"I don't think there's any real correlation or carry-over from last night to tonight," New York manager Willie Randolph said. "We'll get some rest tonight and I guarantee you we'll be ready to play tomorrow."
Now the Mets, who cruised to an NL East title and tied the crosstown Yankees for the best record in baseball at 97-65, will pin their hopes on erratic lefty Oliver Perez in Game 4.
With a 3-13 record and 6.55 ERA, he'll face Cardinals rookie Anthony Reyes.
"We played loose and easy all year long. We're not going to change that now," Randolph said. "We know who we are, no one has to tell us about it."
But while New York keeps losing key players to injuries, the Cardinals are beginning to get them back.
All-Star third baseman Scott Rolen, hampered by a sore left shoulder, returned to the lineup and snapped a 1-for-15 skid with a fifth-inning single. He also made a couple of fine plays in the field.
Trachsel left with a bruised right thigh in the second, ending a horrendous performance in what could have been his final outing with New York.
"He had a little swelling and we'll keep it iced overnight and see how he feels tomorrow," Randolph said. "He seems OK."
Already missing Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, the Mets can't afford another serious injury to a starting pitcher.
But if they don't regroup fast, Trachsel's next turn won't even come up again.
The lone positive for New York: long man Darren Oliver chewed up six scoreless innings, saving the rest of the bullpen a bit for Games 4 and 5.
Suppan, a 12-game winner during the regular season who went 6-2 with a 2.34 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break, didn't need much help at all.
After losing 3-1 to San Diego in Game 3 of the division series, the right-hander struck out four and walked one Saturday night, throwing 69 of his 99 pitches for strikes in an absolute gem.
"He was so focused and kept making great pitches," La Russa said.
Josh Kinney finished up with a perfect ninth, leaving New York scoreless in its past 12 innings.
With no off day because of Wednesday's rainout in New York, the Mets and Cardinals had a short turnaround between Games 2 and 3. The Cardinals' charter landed at about 3 a.m. CDT, while the Mets got to their hotel about 4:30 a.m.
And New York definitely looked like the tired team in a lifeless performance.
Spiezio sparked St. Louis again with a two-out, two-run triple in the first inning.
With Wilson and Albert Pujols aboard, Spiezio hit a drive toward the right-field line that dropped just in front of a diving Shawn Green and deflected away off his chest.
Of course, it was Spiezio's two-out, two-run triple (on an 0-2 pitch from Guillermo Mota) off the glove of a leaping Green that tied Game 2 and turned the series.
Leading off the second, Suppan connected on an 0-2 offering and the ball bounced off the top of the left-field fence, just beyond the reach of a leaping Endy Chavez, and into New York's bullpen.
"I don't know. I swung and it ran into my bat," Suppan said.
Suppan's only regular-season homer in 251 career at-bats also came against Trachsel on Sept. 10, 2005.
The previous pitcher to homer in the postseason was Kerry Wood for the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS, off Florida's Mark Redman.
Suppan also dropped down two successful sacrifice bunts, drawing chants of "Suuuupe!" from the crowd of 47,053.
Wilson's hard comebacker in the second hit Trachsel on the leg, and the ball ricocheted into shallow left field for a single that put runners at the corners. The right-hander was checked by Randolph and a trainer after hobbling off the mound.
Trachsel remained in the game, but not for long. He was removed after a four-pitch walk to Pujols, and Oliver was given as much time as he needed to warm up.
But Oliver's second delivery to Jim Edmonds was a run-scoring wild pitch, and Edmonds' RBI groundout made it 5-0.
Trachsel lasted only one-plus inning. He faced 12 batters, giving up five hits and five walks.