By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - St Louis squandered a 6-0 lead against the New York Mets but Albert Pujols produced the knockout blow in the 13th inning to seal an 8-7 win for the Cards on Wednesday, putting them back into a tie for the NL Central lead.
The Mets (51-50) forced extra innings with a four-run rally in the eighth, but could not complete the storybook ending as they fell 7 �� games behind Atlanta in the NL East.
Pujols slashed a single off Pedro Feliciano to score Skip Schumaker and hand veteran reliever Mike MacDougal the win. MacDougal had joined the club before the game from the Cards' Triple-A affiliate Memphis.
"It was a tough game," Cardinals (56-45) manager Tony La Russa told reporters in his office after the four-hour, 32-minute marathon.
"It felt like working ball rather than playing ball. Give the Mets credit for coming back the way they did."
Mets manager Jerry Manuel liked his club's fighting spirit even as they took their 10th loss from their last 13 games.
"We put ourselves back in the game," Manuel said. "At least we threw a punch back."
The Mets' chances looked bleak after the first inning when the Cardinals stunned ace left-hander Johan Santana with a six-run outburst, highlighted by a two-run homer from Matt Holliday and a two-run single by starting pitcher Jaime Garcia.
The St Louis scoring spree resulted in the most runs and hits (eight) allowed in an opening frame by Santana.
New York hit back with two runs in the bottom of the first and one in the sixth on a Carlos Beltran homer.
Trailing 7-3 going into the eighth the Mets scored four runs to tie the game, Angel Pagan smacking a two-run homer and rookie Ike Davis delivering a two-run, pinch-hit single to send the crowd of 35,000 into roaring delight.
The last time Santana and Garcia faced each other back in April, the teams played 20 innings before New York won 2-1.
Pujols said he had a flashback about that contest.
"It went through my mind," said Pujols. "Not again."
The win saw St Louis join the Cincinnati Reds on top of their division.
(Additional reporting by Julian Linden) (Editing by Peter Rutherford)