Chris Carpenter kept it close once again without his best stuff. The St. Louis Cardinals' hitters, however, looked as though they were facing a Cy Young winner instead of a rookie.

Unable to deliver in the clutch until it was too late, the Cardinals missed a chance to salt away the NL championship series, losing to the New York Mets4-2 Wednesday night.

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Now, St. Louis will head into Game 7 on Thursday night with another favorable pitching matchup: 12-game winner Jeff Suppan against Oliver Perez.

Suppan won two clinching games in the 2004 postseason, besting the Astros' Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the NLCS.

Shut down by John Maine and the Mets' bullpen for eight innings, pinch-hitter So Taguchi's two-out, two-run double in the ninth off Billy Wagner was the Cardinals' lone hit in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Taguchi is 4-for-4 in the postseason and hit a go-ahead pinch homer off Wagner in Game 2.

Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen each came up empty in two key at-bats. Cleanup hitter Juan Encarnacion failed, too.

Rolen, whose sore left shoulder contributed to a late-season slump that landed him on the bench for the clinching game of the division series, doubled to put runners at second and third in the ninth. But he's only 5-for-28 in the postseason with two extra-base hits and no RBIs after driving in 95 runs in the regular season.

Albert Pujols, whose homer ignited the offense against Tom Glavine in Game 5, singled twice and drew an intentional walk.

Entering Game 6, Pujols had been 10-for-21 with two homers and four RBIs in the Cardinals' postseason victories, but 0-for-11 with no RBIs in the losses.

The Cardinals twice left the bases loaded in Game 5, although it didn't cost them in a 4-2 victory. In a six-inning span ending in the first inning of Game 6, they stranded 12 runners.

St. Louis missed a chance in the first to silence a sellout crowd pumped up by a louder-than-usual sound system. With runners on second and third, Edmonds struck out and with the bases loaded, Rolen hit a routine fly.

With two men on in the third, more frustration. Edmonds flied out and Maine struck out Encarnacion. Rolen grounded into an inning-ending double play in the sixth, and Edmonds struck out with a man on to end the eighth.

Carpenter, a 15-game winner and the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, gave up a leadoff home run in the first to Jose Reyes and the Mets bunched three singles in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.

He was a lot better than in Game 2, when he allowed five runs in five innings and needed a late-game rescue in a 9-6 victory that evened the series. This time he couldn't match Maine, whose confidence appeared to grow with each escape.

Carpenter was good enough to win with a little offense, allowing two runs on seven hits in six innings. Instead, he got nothing, and now both the Cardinals' and Mets' seasons hang in the balance.

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